In the race for Buncombe County sheriff, new questions are being raised about an old Asheville Police Department traffic stop.

A prominent Asheville defense attorney says the 2001 traffic stop raises questions about the conduct of Daryl Fisher, a fellow Police Department officer at the time who is now running for Buncombe County Sheriff. Fisher, who was not one of the arresting officers in that case, says any questions and allegations of wrongdoing on his part are false, and politically motivated.

The attorney, Sean Devereux, says Fisher worked to cover up the wrongful arrest of two men, one of whom was pepper-sprayed and roughed up by officers during the arrest. Devereux recently put his concerns into the form of a letter, which has been circulated to members of the local Democratic Party and was sent to the Asheville Citizen-Times. Fisher is one of five Democrats vying for his party’s nomination for sheriff in the May primary election. (Read Devereux’s letter here.)

“I think a candidate that orchestrated a coverup in a police brutality case needs to answer questions about that if he wants to be sheriff,” Devereux said in a telephone interview Tuesday night, adding that he emailed Fisher and told him that he planned to issue the letter.

Fisher says that allegation is false. “I have consistently and repeatedly held officers to a higher standard” throughout his law enforcement career, including his time at the Asheville Police Department, where he once served as assistant chief. Fisher notes that during his law enforcement career, he’s had occasion to arrest two fellow law enforcement officers, one an Asheville police officer and the other a Buncombe Sheriff’s Office lieutenant, for driving while impaired. “That’s not something someone involved in covering up police misconduct would do,” he says. Fisher retired from the department in 2012.

Devereux drew comparisons between how he says police mistreated the men in the 2001 case to the way a now-former Asheville Police Department officer mistreated a pedestrian in August 2017. The 2001 incident was captured by a bystander on video. The more recent incident was filmed by a police officer’s body cam. That video shows now-former Officer Chris Hickman beating, punching and choking resident Johnny Rush, an African-American Asheville resident. The publication of that video by the Asheville Citizen-Times has triggered a U.S. Department of Justice investigation and resulted in criminal charges being filed against one of the arresting officers, as well as a series of other personnel and policy changes on the part of Asheville City Council.

“What happened to Johnny Rush was horrible,” and the 2001 incident was on par with that, Devereux said.

The 2001 incident

In his letter, Devereux describes how two Asheville Police Department officers pulled up to 47 Blanton Street on July 21, 2001, to confront two men, Ismael Hassan and Khalid Saadiq. Devereux has intimate knowledge of the case because he was hired to represent them in 2002 as they faced several criminal charges following the encounter.

The two friends were standing in Hassan’s front yard. Hassan’s 5-year-old son was there, too. The men had grown up together in Asheville and at some point turned to the Islamic faith. As Muslims, Tyrone Koon changed his name to Ismael Hassan, while Carl Smith changed his to Khalid Saadiq.

The two were also interested in police work. Devereux notes in his letter that Saadiq had previously served as an Asheville Police Department officer for about 12 years, while Hassan was certified as a law enforcement officer and hired by the North Carolina Department of Corrections in July 2002.

Devereux goes on in the letter:

When ordered back into the car, Mr. Saadiq asked the officers, “Why” and “What for?” Throughout the encounter, the officers never answered that question.

Mr. Hassan walked his five-year-old son, Elijah, to the front door of their home and scooted the child inside. Then, he returned to the area of the front yard where One of the officers was handcuffing Mr. Saadiq. Before Mr. Hassan could say or do anything, the other officers stepped forward and pepper-sprayed him in the face. One of the officers jumped on his back and twisted his arms behind him so that he, too, could be handcuffed. Mr.Hassan was taken to the ground where he was beaten by the officers. A neighbor made a video recording of what happened next. On the video, you can see the officer– taller and heavier than Mr. Hassan – driving his knee into Mr. Hassan’s back.

The police officers arrested Hassan and Saadiq and charged them with assault on a government official, resisting an officer, use of profane language on a street, failure to yield to a red light and improper turn, Devereux writes. Saadiq was charged with resisting an officer, he writes.

In court during a Superior Court trial, the officers testified that Hassan had made a rolling right-hand turn at a red light at the intersection of Short Coxe and Southside Avenues (ironically a location not far from the spot where Hickman is seen beating Rush), according to Devereux. The two men denied that Hassan had run the light.

Devereux contends in his letter that Fisher testified as a patrol captain who helped cover up the fact that the police officers had wrongly suspected Hassan and Saadiq of being involved in a drug transaction.

Devereux writes:

In other words, at trial, APD staged a cover-up. In charge of that cover-up was the Patrol Captain Daryl Fisher, who testified as a State’s witness at the trial and who orchestrated the testimony of other police witnesses. As you know, Mr. Fisher is currently a candidate for Buncombe County Sheriff. A Buncombe County jury saw through the facade. Mr.Hassan was found not guilty of all charges. Mr. Saadiq had previously been acquitted in District Court.

Fisher says he was not a patrol captain at that time, but rather working as a criminal investigations division sergeant who was not involved in the vehicle stop and only assigned to follow up on the case after the fact. In the trial, there was an issue about whether one of the men went after an officer’s gun, Fisher says, and he testified about a police officer’s special holster and how someone might go after it.

In a District Court case and a Superior Court case, Saadiq and Hassan were found not guilty. Hassan also filed a civil law suit and won a settlement, Devereux says.

Fisher says he’s never been questioned about his limited role in the case. He says he believes the allegations are politically motivated, noting that Devereaux supports Quentin Miller, one of the group of five Democrats running for sheriff.

“I cannot begin to express my extreme disappointment and dissatisfaction in him,” Fisher said in a written statement of Devereux.

Miller’s campaign has declined comment.

Read the Devereux letter.

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