In this August 2012 photo, Asheville Police Department officer Mark Byrd accepts his promotion to captain.

Asheville Police Department Mark Byrd has been placed on administrative suspension, stoking speculation that he may be the source of leaked police body cam video that unleashed a storm of controversy earlier this year.

Byrd is the second high-ranking police department to have been placed on suspension in recent weeks. Capt. Stony Gonce was placed on administrative leave in March and then fired in May. In the termination letter detailing his firing, Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper wrote that there were multiple departmental complaints of Gonce’s inappropriate behavior.

Gonce also interfered in an investigation into the case of Johnnie Rush, a pedestrian who was beaten, choked and Tasered in August 2017 by Officer Chris Hickman, according to Hooper’s termination letter.

In February, the Asheville Citizen-Times published police body cam video showing Hickman’s beating of Rush. The leaked video set off a firestorm of controversy and has led to a federal Justice Department investigation aided by the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation. It’s also moved the Police Department and Asheville City Council to enact policy and personnel reforms, and seek others. Hickman, who left the Police Department in January, has been charged with one felony and two misdemeanors in connection with the incident, and lawyers representing Rush are seeking a settlement from the city.

Police body cam video is not a public record in North Carolina. Its release to the newspaper broke state law. Chief Hooper has said her department would not investigate the source of the leaked video. But that would not preclude the FBI or SBI to look into the matter.

Both Gonce and Byrd have been rumored to be the source of the leaked video. At an Asheville City Council meeting earlier this year, Dee Williams, a local activist and former City Council candidate, publicly stated that Gonce was the source of the leak.

Byrd has been no stranger to controversy during his 19-year Asheville Police Department career. In 2014, he filed a grievance stating that he was unfairly reassigned under then Chief William Anderson after raising concerns about staffing. The year before, he had raised concerns about radar certifications, according to WLOS. Also, WLOS reports that Byrd met with a city resident in June of last year who complained to Byrd about Officer Hickman’s treatment and arrest of her 15-year-old grandson.

In January 2014, Byrd filed a federal lawsuit saying he was systematically harassed, discriminated against and retaliated against because of actions he took in publicly criticizing the Police Department and because of actions his wife, Cherie Byrd, a former officer, took to call out a supervisor for sexual harassment.

Cherie Byrd received a $52,000 settlement in 2011 for her lawsuit against the city of Asheville and former supervisor Eric Lauffer. Byrd claimed that Lauffer used vulgar language describing sexual activity in messages to her. “Other texts contained messages such as ‘I must licky you’ and ‘I am just a man. Never satisfied always wanting more,’” the lawsuit stated.

5 Comments

  1. Sylvia Phillips says:

    Mark Byrd is probably the best thing that has ever happened to APD. He is an honest and upstanding young man! He gets punished for trying to do the RIGHT thing??? There is something mighty wrong with this picture!!!

  2. Weird that AC-T has not reported this, only here and WLOS so far.

  3. So will the DA press charges against Byrd and Gonce for the roles they played in the botched internal APD investigation into the Rush/Hickman debacle?

    Where is the accountability to citizens who pay the salaries for the APD to attempt hiding a video from being released so they could “handle” the officer internally?

    I support Byrd’s actions to leak the video after what he already knew about Hickman’s track record with citizens. It’s very unfortunate the department will punish him for doing the right thing & pushing justice for Rush’s family!

    Here is the the fraternal order of police mission statement just as a reminder – “To support and defend the Constitution of the United States; to inculcate loyalty and allegiance to the United States of America; to promote and foster the enforcement of law and order; to improve the individual and collective proficiency of our members in the performance of their duties; to encourage fraternal, educational, charitable and social activities among law enforcement officers; to advocate and strive for uniform application of the civil service merit system for appointment and promotion; to support the improvement of the standard of living and working conditions of the law enforcement profession through every legal and ethical means available; to create and maintain tradition of esprit de corps insuring fidelity to duty under all conditions and circumstances; to cultivate a spirit of fraternalism and mutual helpfulness among our members and the people we serve; to increase the efficiency of the law enforcement profession and thus more firmly to establish the confidence of the public in the service dedicated to the protection of life and property.” smh

  4. James L. Smith says:

    Byrd and Wilke are two rare stand-up cops at APD. Without either of these men of good character, APD will start to sink again into the quagmire where it has wallowed for decades. I go back to the sixties. I watched when J. C. Hall was chief and so much corruption ruled APD. Since the days of the scoundrel, J. C. Hall, I have watched chief after chief (with the help of a corrupt or incompetent city manager) abuse APD to subvert the course of justice.

    I was hopeful when Ron Moore got his walking papers, and hoping this relatively new chief would be good for Asheville. Now I’m having my doubts. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. (Baron von Acton)

  5. So a cop passes on info to an activist to promote reform, transparency and accountability, and she rewards him by throwing him under the bus? Good luck getting help (or sympathy) the next time a cop beats a black man in Asheville.

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