Asheville City Council on Thursday announced not one but two audits of the Asheville Police Department in the wake of the publication of body cam video showing an officer beating a man that had been detained for jaywalking last year. The Asheville Citizen-Times, which obtained the video and supporting documents from an anonymous source, published the video and an accompanying story by reporter Joel Burgess last week. City officials have been dealing with the fallout, including an outraged public, ever since. (Timeline of events.)
“Like you, we are angry. We are angry that a black man walking home from a long day at work was stopped for jaywalking — something most of us do regularly without consequence,” the City Council statement begins.
“We are angry that Johnnie Rush was attacked, beaten, choked and tased by a white police officer in violation of City policy and common decency. And we are furious that no one thought that we — Asheville’s elected leaders — needed to know about this incident,” the statement reads.
After apologizing again in its statement, City Council goes on to note that Police Chief Tammy Hooper immediately took the offending officer, Chris Hickman, off the streets and “took necessary steps to ensure that he’s no longer employed by the Asheville Police Department.”
Still, City Council said it was committed “to making deep, structural changes needed to help prevent this from happening again.” Council members called for an audit by a third party such as the Police Executive Research Forum, “to determine the degree to which structural racism and implicit and explicit bias continue to contribute to the operations and actions of the department and its officers.”
And City Council said it would also commission an external audit “of the staff’s decision-making process related to failure to notify Council. While we don’t yet know if it was a failure of culture, process, or just a cascade of poor decisions by multiple individuals, we need answers and a plan to promote swift action and accountability.”
City Council members said they planned “to work to develop a set of policy and practice changes for both the police and the City designed to help us make meaningful change,” and welcomed suggestions from the public.
In closing, City Council thanked police officers “who viewed this video and were angry or ashamed, or otherwise rejected what you saw. We say thank you. We welcome you to stay and continue the transformation of our police department into one that reflects the best policies and practices available. Likewise, to any officers who may not have been disturbed by this, we want to make it clear that Asheville has zero tolerance for racism or excessive use of force by our officers.”