Asheville Police Department evidence room photo via the Asheville Citizen-Times

Yesterday Asheville City Council heard a consultant deliver the first public report on the 2011 audit of the Asheville Police Department evidence room.

Former police chief Bill Hogan resigned shortly after the 2011 evidence-room scandal went public.  Longtime evidence-room manager William Lee Smith had resigned months earlier.

Last night’s report on the audit showed “a state of deep disarray,” according to the Asheville Citizen-Times. Mayor Terry Bellamy called the situation “appalling.” Thousands of items are missing, and auditors estimate it will take at least two years to sort out the contents of the evidence room.

The 2011 audit revealed missing items including guns, drugs and 34 packets of cash. Local media outlets including the Citizen-Times, Mountain Xpress, Carolina Public Press, WLOS and WCQS have all sued for full access to the evidence-room audit, but District Attorney Ron Moore still refuses to share the information with the public.

Last night’s report was a presentation from a consulting firm, not a public release of the 2011 audit.

From the Citizen-TimesEvidence room found in disarray

Conditions verged on chaos, Mike Wright, of consulting firm BlueLine Systems, said in a presentation to the council.

Thousands of items listed in evidence room records simply could not be found, Wright said.

Mayor Terry Bellamy called what council saw and heard in Wright’s report “appalling.”

“That situation is horrendous to look at and know that lives are at stake,” she said.

Problems with the evidence room became public knowledge in April 2011, although city police starting looking into the issue weeks earlier.

Police said then that a quick look for 1,097 items found that 27 guns, 54 containers of drugs and 34 packets of money were missing.

From Mountain XpressAuditor reveals APD evidence room a mess, mayor calls situation “appalling”

What the company found, Blueline’s Mike Wright reported at the July 24 meeting, was a mess. Items were on the floor, blocking doorways and overflowing from the shelves, while evidence that was supposed to be disposed of wasn’t. Auditors also located several boxes of cash that were designated “school fund.” There’s no apparent paperwork for the cash. and the auditors couldn’t determine its legal status.

While some areas were fine, Wright noted, the overall situation is bad enough that it will take at least two years to completely sort out.

APD Chief William Anderson went a step further, calling the timeline “conservative.”

Bellamy called the situation “appalling” and wanted Anderson’s assurances that such disarray “will never happen again.”

“This situation is horrendous to look at,” she said, adding that the city needed to restore the public’s trust and that the failure of the evidence room put lives at risk.

There are consequences to our city beyond lack of transparency, loss of public trust, and missing guns, money and oxycodone. Cases have been compromised and persons charged with violent crimes have been able to leave jail on unsecured bonds. From the Asheville Citizen-Times last month:

Because (District Attorney Ron) Moore could not immediately produce evidence against people facing charges, he was forced to allow some charged with violent crimes to leave jail on unsecured bonds.

They included Andrew Grady Davis, 37, extradited to Asheville on DNA evidence for a 2001 rape and placed in jail on a $1 million bond before it was reduced to unsecured.

Also released was, Twari Rashad Mapp, in jail on charges including robbery with a dangerous weapon and placed on a $25,000 bond before it was reduced.

“Whenever government officials don’t want something released, they claim it’s under investigation,” Citizen-Times Publisher Randy Hammer said. “It’s their way of hiding embarrassing information from the public. And it’s wrong. Citizens should not have to fight their public servants to understand how their government works.”

 

6 Comments

  1. I’d like to add another point of clarification, which is that Carolina Public Press is the other media organization to have filed suit in thia case. We are the nonprofit news service to have organized this local media coalition to file the suit. You can find our ongoing investigation into the evidence room here: http://www.carolinapublicpress.org/category/special-reports/asheville-police-department-evidence-room-audit-special-report

  2. Jon Elliston says:

    Jason, Council originally appropriated the $175,000, but that sum was subsequently covered by federal and state drug-seizure funds.

  3. Jon Elliston says:

    Thanks for this post, Jennifer. A point of clarification: we’re talking about two different audits here. The one that “revealed missing items including guns, drugs and 34 packets of cash” was a preliminary, partial audit done by the APD. It has been released. The larger audit was the one done by Blueline for the city — and it’s the one that hasn’t been released.

    • Thanks Jon. Another question for you regarding the $175,000 cost of the audit: was that paid for by taxpayer money, or by money the police department collected through drug/property seizures? It’s my understanding that it is the latter, but I’m not sure.

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