Pete's Prep: Tuesday, March 6, 2018

More details in APD beating case

The illegal leak of police body cam footage has made it increasingly clear that there is a battle being fought in the Asheville political arena - involving the City administration, the City Council, the Police Department, and the District Attorney's office.

The case that has brought this battle to the surface involves a former police officer - Chris Hickman - who violated the Department's Use of Force policy - when he violently subdued and arrested Johnnie Jermaine Rush last summer. 

A quick recap:

Rush was told to use a crosswalk rather than cross the street in front of oncoming traffic.

Seconds later, Rush ignored the warning and did it again.

He was stopped again.

He argued with the cops.

He was told he would get a jaywalking ticket.

He cursed at them.

Officer Hickman moved to arrest Rush - who ran.

The cops tackled him.

He resisted.

Hickman punched Rush repeatedly in the head after he said Rush tried to grab the officer's TASER.

The following day Rush filed a complaint against Hickman.

After months of internal investigation, Hickman quit the force and someone leaked footage of the violent arrest to the Asheville Citizen-Times. The newspaper put the footage on it's website - prompting outrage, accusations of a cover-up, and calls for the Police Chief to be fired.

The paper has not reported that Captain Stoney Gonce - who had filed complaints against Hickman and the Chief - has been put on paid investigative leave. Many inside APD believe it was Gonce who gave the video to the AC-T.

City moves to release more

Last night, the City Council and Manager released a bunch of new information pertaining to the case - including past accusations against Hickman and a timeline of APD's investigation.

The Council also is asking a court to release more body cam video captured before, during, and after the August incident.

The city's petition acknowledges that Hickman's use of force "was clearly excessive," but it notes that body camera footage is not a public document under state law. The city argues that because footage already was released to Citizen Times reporter Joel Burgess, the public already has access to it, and no loss of privacy will occur.

The petition states that the excessive force visible in the already released video, "together with other aggressive and unprofessional behavior and language displayed by Hickman in the recording" has become "a source of extensive questions, concerns and anger for the city's residents and city officials."

Some of the details released last night contradict earlier reporting and statements from the District Attorney - Todd Williams.

The new information includes that officer Chris Hickman was told to turn in his gun and badge the day after the Aug. 24 incident and that on Jan. 5 Hickman resigned just before Police Chief Tammy Hooper could fire him. A supervising officer was disciplined after the event, the information released by City Manager Gary Jackson said.

Some of the statements made by Jackson contradict what District Attorney Todd Williams has said about how much of the body camera footage Williams saw early on and whether the district attorney called for the Asheville Police Department or another agency to conduct a criminal investigation, which some say is key to dealing with potential police bias.

You can see a full timeline at the Citizen-Times' story here.

DA Williams is also calling for a new policy that prohibits the APD from investigating its own officers.

In more fallout since the airing of police video showing an officer beating a man after he had been warned he was jaywalking, the region's top elected prosecutor said officers should not investigate cases of alleged police brutality within their own departments.

District Attorney Todd Williams said Monday he wants a new policy for the Asheville Police Department in which suspected excessive force incidents are automatically sent to the State Bureau of Investigation.

Remember, Williams said he was not provided all the footage from the body cam when he was asked by APD to drop the charges against Rush.

According to City Manager Gary Jackson, Williams "requested that the APD conduct the criminal investigation instead."

Williams has said, and said again Monday night, that he didn't tell APD to do the investigation itself, but did indicate an investigation should still be done. Williams has said he disagrees with APD doing such criminal investigations of its own officers. On Friday he made two more appeals to the SBI, including to its director, to take the case.

It'll be up to a Superior Court judge to decide whether to release more body cam footage. 

Pete Kaliner

Pete Kaliner

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