27 cases started by N.C. officer seen beating accused jaywalker dropped

Ex-cop accused of beating jaywalker arrested

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- A North Carolina prosecutor has dropped 27 cases initiated by a white police officer shown on video beating a black man accused of jaywalking.

Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams tells the Citizen Times in a Monday statement that former Asheville police Officer Christopher Hickman could not be considered a credible witness.

The 31-year-old was arrested Thursday on felony assault and other charges in the August incident. The Associated Press was unable to reach him by phone Friday.

Williams says the dropped cases involved 17 defendants and included felonies and DWIs. They did not include violent felonies or sex offenses. More cases could be dropped as prosecutors analyze convictions obtained using Hickman's testimony.

County courthouse records staff say a list of the dropped cases was not immediately available.

180313-hickman-mug-shot.jpg
Christopher William Hickman WNCN-TV

The case against former Asheville Police Officer Christopher Hickman stems from an August 2017 encounter, but became public only last week after a leaked body camera video showed Hickman subduing and punching the pedestrian, who was accused of jaywalking.

The violent encounter happened shortly after Asheville implemented rules against excessive force that included training on de-escalating tense situations -- demonstrating how even a well-meaning policy can be limited by the officers carrying it out. The policy was drafted in the aftermath of a white officer killing an armed black man after a high speed chase.

The delay in making the footage public also shows that body camera technology being adopted across the country can't always guarantee the level of transparency many have hoped for.

"We need to be very cognizant of how difficult police supervision actually is. It's difficult enough that we can't just throw a piece of technology at it and expect to substantially change police supervision," said Seth Stoughton, who teaches law at the University of South Carolina.

Despite the policy, Hickman was shown on video published by The Citizen-Times subduing Johnnie Jermaine Rush, then punching him repeatedly in the head and face as he lay on the ground. Rush, whom officers had accused of jaywalking, was also shocked with a stun gun as he screamed in pain. The altercation unfolded around midnight Aug. 25 near the city's minor-league baseball stadium and a cluster of breweries that help fuel a booming tourism industry.

An arrest warrant for Hickman said Rush, 33, suffered head abrasions and swelling and that he lost consciousness when Hickman pressed his arm on his throat.

James Lee, a black minister and member of the Racial Justice Coalition, said the episode erodes trust in a community that hoped the use-of-force policy would bring change.

Last week, the Asheville City Council voted to release a memo detailing how the August excessive-force case was handled.

According to the memo, an extensive review of body camera footage from all of Hickman's encounters with the public -- some 58 hours -- revealed four other times in which he "displayed discourteous and rude conduct to members of the public." It's not clear if those four incidents were previously known to Hickman's superiors; Jackson wrote that they didn't result in complaints. The memo doesn't elaborate on what happened in those cases.