‘I Can’t Breathe!’ Police Beating of Black North Carolina Man Draws Outrage

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Authorities are investigating police body camera footage from August that shows two white officers beating, then Tasering a Black man accused of jaywalking in Asheville, N.C.

The footage, obtained by the Citizen Times, shows Officer Chris Hickman beating local man Johnnie Jermaine Rush with several blows to the head while another officer held him down. Rush was also shocked twice with a stun gun, saying several times that he couldn’t breathe as officers struggled to restrain him.

The shocking video has sparked outrage in the community, prompting Hickman to resign. Police Chief Tammy Hooper has also offered to step down, in an effort to quell the uproar.

“The city is in outrage,” Councilwoman Sheneika Smith told the New York Times in a phone interview Wednesday. “Facebook was flaming. It was on fire.”

The incident unfolded Aug 24. after officers stopped Rush, 33, for jaywalking at a street corner that night. The local man had just finished working a 13-hour shift at the Cracker Barrel when he was approached by police. Verino Ruggiero, a cop in training at the time, reprimanded Rush for not using the crosswalk.

Asheville Police Beating
Johnnie Jermaine Rush. (Image courtesy of Citizen Times)

“All I’m trying to do is go home, man. I’m tired,” Rush tells the officer. “I just got off work.”

Ruggiero replies, “I’ve got two options: I can either arrest you or write you a ticket.”

“It doesn’t matter to me, man,” the man says. “Do what you have got to do, besides keep harassing me.”

The situation soon escalated from there, as Hickman orders Rush to put his hands behind his back. Rush makes a run for it, however, and the officers chase him, eventually forcing him to the ground.

“You’re going to get f—ed up hardcore,” Hickman is heard saying during the pursuit before pulling out his Taser. Rush was taken to the hospital following the tense encounter, where he accused Hickman of being abusive toward him and using a racial slur, the Citizen Times reported. The footage also showed the officer beating him in the head with a closed fist as he laid on the ground.

At the time of his arrest and beating, Rush was charged with impeding traffic, second-degree trespassing assault on a government official and resisting a public officer. Those charges were dismissed, however, after District Attorney Todd Williams reviewed the body cam footage.

Meanwhile, an investigation into Hick’s behavior is underway, according to Hooper. The police chief has since ordered a review of all body cam footage captured by Hickman’s camera during his other encounters with the public.

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