A white ex-cop in North Carolina who pleaded guilty to choking out a Black man for doing little more than jaywalking will be cleared of all charges in one year thanks to a first-of-its-kind restorative justice program.
Christopher Hickman’s participation in the program was negotiated as part of a plea deal announced Friday, Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams said in a message on Twitter.
The victim, Johnnie Jermaine Rush, represented by civil rights attorney James Ferguson, agreed to the deal, Williams said.
“After Mr. Hickman was charged, I consulted with Mr. Rush about his feelings and what justice could look like for him in this case,” Williams said. “Upon reflection, Mr. Rush stated that what was most important to him was that the violation of his rights be recognized, that he receive an apology and, if possible, that no one else should experience what he experienced.”
Rush was stopped by the officer on Aug. 25 2017 in Asheville after a walk through a business’s parking lot resulted in accusations he was trespassing and jaywalking.
Hickman said he thought Rush had a weapon, but during the incident Rush asked Hickman: “How was I supposed to comply with your orders while you were assaulting me? How did you think I had a weapon?”
The questions went unanswered in Williams’ Twitter message, but it included a statement from Hickman.
“I pretty much left you with no choice and I left myself with no choice on how I’m supposed to react,” Hickman said, “and that’s not what I want to do for either one of us, but that’s on me.”
“That’s what I did and that’s stuff I should have done better,” he added, “and I’m sorry about that and I’m sorry that that situation happened, and I’m sorry that the mistakes that I made made it get to that point.”
Under normal sentencing, Hickman could have faced a maximum of four years in prison, but it was unlikely that Hickman got the maximum sentence because of his service as a police officer, Williams told the Asheville Citizen-Times.
He said Hickman probably would have been given eight to ten months or had his case moved out of the county before a more impartial jury.
“It’s my belief if the matter were transferred to a more rural district it enhances the likelihood, were it submitted to a jury, that the jury discussion would be more about Mr Rush’s resistance and flight, rather than Mr. Hickman’s assault on Mr. Rush,” Williams said.
Instead, Hickman pleaded guilty to assault by strangulation, misdemeanors communicating threats and misdemeanor assault while inflicting serious injury.
Black pubic officials, however, have criticized the deal and argued that minority defendants typically receive harsher treatment for lesser crimes the Asheville Citizen-Times reported.