ASHEVILLE — Body camera footage of a police beating of a black man shows different perspectives of the brutal encounter that went viral after a leaked video was published a month ago.
Several of the videos clarify aspects of the August encounter that led to criminal charges against then-officer Chris Hickman, including felony assault by strangulation. Those charges came after the Citizen Times published a portion of Hickman's body cam footage that it obtained Feb. 28, six months after the beating.
Following public outcry and the dismissal of City Manager Gary Jackson, additional footage was released Monday by court order at the request of the city of Asheville.
It shows on two separate occasions, Hickman is shown holding pedestrian Johnnie Rush by the neck, once with his hands and another time with his arms.
Hickman is seen stunning Rush with a Taser and claiming to have clubbed him in the face with the stun gun.
The videos also show a strange contrast, with conversation between Rush and Hickman outside Mission Hospital after Rush is treated, in which the men discuss the incident, family and work.
In response Monday to questions about the videos, including the portions that appear to show Rush being strangled, Hickman's attorney Thomas Amburgey said, "nothing is clear cut."
Amburgey declined further comment.
In a statement earlier Monday, the attorney said many people have rushed to judgment.
"I am confident that when a fair and impartial jury hears the whole story that Mr. Hickman will be acquitted."
In a video released Monday from the body camera of Sgt. Lisa Taube, Rush talks to Taube after the beating from the back of a patrol car, telling her wants to press charges against Hickman.
"What would have happened if he had killed me? Then what?" Rush said.
Body camera footage from six officers — Hickman, Taube and officers Luis Delgado, Doug Williams, Shawn Parker and Colby Davis — was released Monday.
Police trainee Verino Ruggiero also was at the scene, but was not wearing a body cam. Hickman was training Ruggiero at the time.
"At the time back in August 2017, we were still in the process of issuing cameras to every officer," Asheville Police Department spokesperson Christina Hallingse said Monday. "Trainees, since they were just starting out, had not been issued them yet."
In body camera footage from Asheville police officer Luis Delgado shows a struggle between then-officer Christopher Hickman, Officer Verino Ruggiero and Johnnie Rush during an altercation following his stop for jaywalking on August 25, 2017. Rush is seen being held around the neck by Hickman.
The city states Ruggiero was immediately reassigned to another training officer "and has given every indication that he understands that Hickman’s actions were wholly unacceptable, and not up to the standards of a modern, community-oriented police agency."
Hickman was placed on administrative duty the day after the August incident, and a noncriminal internal investigation was launched. He resigned from his post in January, though the city said Police Chief Tammy Hooper had prepared a letter of termination.
Hickman faces charges of felony assault by strangulation, and misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury and communicating threats.
APD's use of force policy states officers should avoid choke holds and strikes with an instrument other than hands or fists above a person's shoulders "unless lethal force is reasonably believed to be necessary within the guidelines and in compliance with law and this directive."
"This incident has created a loss of trust within the community, particularly among people of color," city officials said in a statement. "The city of Asheville understands that there is substantial work to do to restore the public’s trust. We have heard your concerns and feedback and we are committed to moving forward with the help of the community. We are encouraged by the community’s support as we implement changes towards this goal.
"We are dedicated to being leaders who will create a culture where all people are treated with dignity and respect, and will hold accountable any employee who does not conduct themselves in this manner."
In Taube's body camera footage, Rush tells her that he was punched repeatedly by Hickman "for no reason," and denies Hickman's claim that he grabbed the Taser.
Taube, the supervising officer, tells Rush he was "in the wrong" for running from police after being stopped on suspicion of jaywalking and trespassing.
"You're just going by what your officer tells you," Rush tells Taube. "There's two sides to every story."
"There are," Taube says. "And thankfully I've got body worn video camera to watch afterwards."
In a Feb. 28 interview with the Citizen Times, Rush said Taube yelled at him and said he was lying when he recounted his version of events.
Taube ultimately received disciplinary action for poor performance, and was ordered to undergo remedial training in connection with this incident.
Also in that Feb. 28 interview, Rush told the Citizen Times that while at Mission Hospital, Hickman was abusive to him and used a racial slur.
In the videos released Monday, as Rush and Hickman are walking outside Mission following Rush's treatment and release, Hickman’s body camera catches an exchange between the men as Hickman is getting a cigarette and a light for Rush.
"I didn’t mean for this to happen," Rush plainly tells Hickman.
"We didn’t either," the officer responds, talking about himself and his trainee Ruggiero. "He warned you once, then he was just gonna give you a ticket the second time."
As their conversation continues, Hickman explains his actions to Rush.
“I understand that I ran … But you didn't have to keep punching me and choking me,” Rush says.
“Yeah, I did,” Hickman replies.
Rush then asks why.
“Because you never complied with my orders. … You didn’t put your hands behind your back," Hickman says.
“But how, when you’re choking me…,” Rush asks.
“I didn’t start (choking) you until I probably punched you 10 times," Hickman says.