Asheville City Manager Gary Jackson emerged from a closed session of Asheville City Council Monday night and read a six-page statement regarding the August 2017 incident in which an Asheville Police Department officer’s body cam video showed him beating and using a Taser on a restrained man officers had detained. The restrained man has since had his charges dropped thanks to the man’s criminal lawyer.
Jackson said that he and City Council agreed to make public detailed personnel information regarding Officer Chris Hickman and his conduct to maintain transparency around the events of that night and maintain the public’s trust. Here are highlights of the timeline Jackson described surrounding the events of late Aug. 24 and early Aug. 25, 2017, regarding Officer Hickman’s interactions with Asheville resident Johnnie Rush, who said he was walking home after working a long shift at a fast food restaurant. This timeline also includes information culled for various news outlets, including the Asheville Citizen-Times, Huffington Post and the Washington Post.
-Asheville Police Department Officer Chris Hickman was put on desk duty on Aug. 25, 2017, the day after the incident. That same day, Police Chief Tammy Hooper notifies assistant city attorney and assistant city manager.
-Sept. 15: Hooper meets with Buncombe County District Todd Williams, who reviews body cam video and decides to drop all criminal charges against the man who was beaten, Johnnie Rush.
-During an internal review of Asheville Police Department Officer Chris Hickman’s alleged use of excessive force against Johnnie Rush, a police supervisor investigated but failed to forward information gathered up the chain of command. The supervisor also failed to look at body cam footage the same night as the Aug 2017 incident. The police supervisor was disciplined for those failures.
-A comprehensive review of 58 hours of body cam video from Asheville Police Department Officer Chris Hickman showed four other times he was “rude” or “discourteous” toward a member of the public, a violation of the department’s conduct code.
-Dec. 22: Hickman is suspended from his job.
-Dec. 19: Asheville Police Chief Hooper meets with Buncombe District Attorney Todd Williams again. Williams reviews more videotape and decided to ask N.C. SBI to investigate.
-On Jan. 2, Chief Hooper meets with Officer Hickman.
-Jan. 5, Chief Hooper meets with Officer Hickman again, and Hickman resigns before Hooper can terminate his job.
-Jan. 11: Police Chief Hooper sends a letter to the N.C. SBI and asks the agency to investigate. On Jan. 12, the SBI declines because the Asheville Police Department’s internal investigations have led to Hickman’s resignation, Jackson said.
-After the SBI declines to investigate excessive use of force allegations on the part of Asheville Police Officer Hickman, DA Williams asks Asheville police to conduct their own criminal investigation.
-Jan. 18: The Asheville Police Department starts its own internal investigation into whether Officer Hickman committed assault on Johnnie Rush in August 2017. The investigation is now almost complete, Jackson says.
Jan. 25: Two FBI agents visit Rush and interview him about the incident.
Feb. 20: Asheville Lt. Joe Silberman, who is conducting the Asheville Police Department’s criminal investigation into the incident, visits Rush and apologizes to him about the incident.
Feb. 28: The Asheville Citizen-Times publishes the body cam video of Officer Hickman, as well as an accompanying story by reporter Joel Burgess. The news story appears in print the next day under the headline, “Video: Police shown beating suspect.” Some readers respond with anger at the headline, which they say exposes an institutional racist bias at the newspaper by simply referring to Johnnie Rush as a “suspect.” Citizen-Times reporters apologize for the headline and defend the newspaper, noting that the headline is written by a copy editor sitting at a desk in Kentucky.
March 1: Chief Hooper and Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer release statements condemning the August incident involving Hickman an expressly apologizing to Rush.
March 1: Mayor Esther Manheimer, Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, and Police Chief Tammy Hooper meet with the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the Baptist Ministers Union to talk about the incident. They agree to meet again on March 22..
March 2: Hooper and Williams suggest in public statements that they may investigate who leaked the video, while Williams sends a letter to SBI Director Bob Schurmeier, asking him to investigate the leak of the body cam video, saying that it could hinder a future prosecution. Williams also again asks the SBI to investigate the incident. The SBI again declines to investigate the incident.
March 5: The City of Asheville files a petition asking the Buncombe County Superior Court to order the release of additional body-worn camera recordings of Asheville Police Department officers involved in the August 2017 incident. The body cam video is not considered a public record under North Carolina law. In its petition, city officials say they believe the release of additional video is necessary to provide the public with full disclosure of the circumstances surrounding the incident.
March 5: DA Williams announces that he wants the Asheville Police Department to adopt a new policy in which suspected excessive force incidents are automatically sent to the State Bureau of Investigation.
March 5: Asheville City Council holds a closed door meeting and City Manager Gary Jackson emerges with his statement.