RJ Program used in police beating case aims to bridge divides
In 2018, leaked body camera footage showed an Asheville, North Carolina, police officer beating and using a stun gun on pedestrian Johnnie Rush. Last month, former officer Chris Hickman pleaded guilty to assaulting Rush and received a sentence of 12 months of probation with no jail time. Under the deal, the guilty pleas were made pursuant to a conditional discharge, which means that if Hickman fulfills conditions set by Superior Court Judge Bill Coward, those charges will be dismissed after the probation.
A key condition in the deal is participation in a restorative justice program led by Campbell University law professor Jon Powell, who said the restorative justice arrangement appeared to be the first in the nation involving a convicted police officer.
James Ferguson, Rush’s former attorney, has been part of the justice system for 52 years, and sat in on every meeting and watched as the two men sat across from each other and discussed what happened on the night of the incident.
“It was a very moving experience to me to watch these two folks, who could have easily become bitter enemies, talk as one human being to another,” Ferguson said.
According to the district attorney, Hickman said, “I pretty much left you with no choice and I left myself with no choice on how I’m supposed to react 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 and I’m sorry about that and I’m sorry that that situation happened and I’m sorry that the mistakes that I made it get to that point.”