WLOS reports that Johnnie Rush, the man seen in police body cam video being beaten, choked and Tased by former Asheville Police Department Officer Chris Hickman plans to seek compensation for injuries related to the August 2017 incident. The Asheville Citizen-Times was leaked a copy of the body cam video and published it, along with a story detailing the encounter, on Feb. 28.
In a letter from renown civil rights attorney James E. Ferguson II and Geraldine Sumter of the Charlotte law firm Ferguson Chambers & Sumter to Asheville City Manager Gary Jackson and Asheville Police Department Chief Tammy Hooper, Ferguson writes that they’ve been retained by Rush to make claims regarding “false arrest, unlawful imprisonment, assault and battery, infliction of emotional distress, infliction of physical and emotional injuries and other claims” regarding the Aug. 24, 2017, incident.
Ferguson grew up in Asheville and saw racial discrimination and inequity first hand, according to a lawdragon.com profile. “While in high school in the 1950s, he formed a student group to desegregate public facilities in his hometown,” the profile states. That group was the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality. This 2005 Mountain Xpress story details the work of Ferguson and several other Stephens-Lee High School students at the time to fight for civil rights.
Ferguson, now based in Charlotte, went on to crusade for civil rights and educational equality and helped Julius Chambers, a fellow civil rights leader, found the first integrated law firm in North Carolina in the late 1960s.
In the letter to Asheville officials, Ferguson notifies city officials that litigation may follow if claims cannot be otherwise resolved and asks officials to “preserve and retain any and all evidence, documents, information and materials pertaining to Mr. Rush’s potential claims against the City of Asheville and the Asheville Police Department.”
Those documents and evidence include everything from emails and text messages to “any and all videos and/or body cam recordings” of Rush’s encounter with police, according to the letter that WLOS obtained. Ferguson also requests copies of all insurance policies covering the city of Asheville, the Asheville Police Department or any officer involved with Rush’s arrest.
“I am writing this letter to protect the interest of my client in seeking full compensation for bodily and emotional injury and gross and grievous violations of his constitutional, civil and human rights,” Ferguson states in the letter.
The letter is copied to Antanette Mosley, an Asheville native and former Atlanta attorney who now works as the director of resource development for Mountain Housing Opportunities.
On Feb. 20, just eight days before the Citizen-Times published its news story and the police body cam video, Ferguson toured the downtown Asheville construction site of Eagle Market Place, a mixed-use development led by Mountain Housing Opportunities, with Mosley. The development is located at the corner of Eagle and Market streets, which was once the hub of businesses owned African-American residents. Marvin Chambers, another civil rights activist and founding member of the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality in 1959, was along for the tour.
A MHO post on Facebook says that both Ferguson and Chambers have many memories of The Block, the nickname of the African-American business district, “from growing up in Asheville.”