Report: APD Officers Should Have Intervened In Rush Beating But Didn't

Aug 28, 2018

A report commissioned by the city of Asheville criticizes two Asheville police officers for not intervening when a then city police officer was beating and choking an unarmed black pedestrian last August. 

The report from 21st CP Solutions reviews the arrest of Johnnie Rush, who was stopped by then Asheville police officer Chris Hickman and officer in training Verino Ruggerio.  Rush had been stopped for suspected jaywalking along Biltmore Avenue last August 25th.  Charges against Rush were dropped, while officer Hickman was eventually charged with three crimes after he had resigned from the police force.  The beating made national headlines once it became public six months after it happened, when footage from a police body camera showing Hickman beating, choking, and shocking Rush with a stun gun was leaked to the Asheville Citizen-Times, which then published it.

The report (click here to read it in full) was released ahead of Tuesday's Asheville city council meeting, and broke its findings and conclusions into three parts.  The first looked at the actions of officers the night of the Rush beating, followed by how the Asheville police department handled its response to the incident, and finally the response from city government.  Among those interviewed for the report were police chief Tammy Hooper, acting city manager Cathy Ball, city attorney Robin Currin, and selected 'sworn APD personnel of various ranks and assignments.'  21st CP Solutions hails itself as 'preeminent team of thought leaders and change agents in modern policing', and was created as an outgrowth of President Barack Obama's task force on 21st Century Policing.

The report states Officer Hickman should not have been 'utilized' as a field training officer, quoting from a former supervisor who was interviewed who described Hickman as 'a class clown who was abrasive, opionionated, and lacking a filter' and said he 'often bucked authority and could be challenging to supervise.'  A review of Hickman's prior disciplinary record showed issues that should have prevented him from being a field training officer according to the report, including a 'sustained complaint' that led to a suspension in the months before the Rush beating. 

Portion of the report

The authors of the report also faulted officers Ruggerio and Luis Delgado for not intervening when Rush was being beaten and choked by officer Hickman.  The report states 'acknowledging the challenging power dynamic between an FTO and trainee, it nonetheless holds that the Rush incident may not have escalated to the point that it did had Officers Ruggerio and Delgado felt empowered to intervene', saying further Hickman's actions 'warranted intervention by other officers.'  The report also states officers appeared to have not told EMS workers that multiple Taser rounds had been used on Rush, in violation of APD policy.  It also states officer Hickman did not tell his supervising officer sergeant Lisa Taube of the number of Taser rounds used.  In body cam footage, sergeant Taube was seen arguing with Rush over what happened after he was placed in a police car.  She was disciplined by the police force for her actions the night of the beating, but was not terminated from the force.

Recommendations from the report include having APD revise its 'selection and recruitment process' for field training officers, and consider adopting a peer intervention program to 'train and empower officers to intervene in situations in which they must hold themselves and fellow officers accountable.'

The report is also critical of the timing of the leaking of the body camera footage to the Asheville Citizen-Times, saying it happened after Hickman had resigned from the force and could have 'undermined' criminal investigations into the indicent.  But the report also says the Asheville police department took too long in giving a formal response to the publishing of the video, noting it took 16 hours before a statement was released via Twitter.  By that time, other local and national media outlets had picked up the story. 

The mayor, city council members, and other high-level Asheville officials were unaware of the Rush beating until the Citizen-Times published the body camera footage showing it.  The report recommends the city 'develop clear protocols for when individuals at different levels of city government should be informed about particular events' and that a 'crisis communication policy' be implemented to coordinate press releases and other communication with the media.