At a special meeting today, Asheville City Council declared its support for Police Chief William Anderson, announcing that an internal investigation had found no evidence that he had engaged in a cover-up related to a March car crash involving his son, as alleged by Lt. William Wilke.
However, the inquiry did note that Anderson acted inappropriately when he ordered Wilke, the watch commander the night of the crash, to meet with him as the State Bureau of Investigation reviewed the case later that same month.
"I believe we stand here with all the information we could ever muster to make the decision we made here today," Mayor Terry Bellamy said after Council members came out of a half-hour closed session — the second such session in the past week. "We support our city manager, we support our chief of police. We support our police department," she said.
Questions about the March 9 car crash involving the chief's son have been in the forefront for months, with Anderson admitting shortly after the incident that he had made mistakes in the initial steps of the investigation. More recently, Wilke filed a formal complaint, announcing publicly on June 25 that Anderson and Capt. Stoney Gonce had tried to coerce him to "change the facts" during the SBI inquiry.
In his complaint, Wilke also claimed that after he'd raised concerns with city management, he'd seen no action except Anderson ordering him out of a meeting with the SBI and into his office the next day. The lieutenant also asserted that the APD’s rank-and-file have significant, ongoing issues with Anderson's management.
At today’s meeting, Jackson acknowledged that Wilke had visited his office on March 13 but said that no formal response was needed at that time. He added that senior city staff had directed the APD to fully cooperate with the SBI. Jackson claimed they didn't hear further from Wilke until the June complaint, which spurred an internal inquiry that took 20 hours of staff time and included interviewing seven people.
Jackson and his staff concluded that Gonce and Anderson hadn't tried to manipulate or coerce Wilke and that city had management handled the complaint appropriately. "The city manager concurs with the district attorney's determination that no criminal laws were violated in the course of the investigation of the accident," the report states.
But as for Anderson ordering Wilke out of a meeting with the SBI and into his office March 14, such "conduct was not appropriate, and this issue has been addressed with Chief Anderson by his supervisor."
Throughout the meeting, Bellamy repeatedly voiced Council's confidence in Anderson, asking Jackson at the close of the meeting, "Do we still have a chief of police and is his name Chief Anderson?"
"That's correct: Chief Anderson is chief of the police department," Jackson replied. He touted a reduction in violent crime, along with the formation of downtown and public housing units, as accomplishments over Anderson's tenure.
The report, however, acknowledges "concerns within the department regarding general management practices." To address those concerns, which weren’t specified, Jackson said he will call in outside experts and rotate captains so that Gonce is no longer Wilke's supervisor.
Talking to reporters afterwards, Bellamy asserted that any possible criminal charges against Anderson were the DA's responsibility. She also remarked that Anderson had inherited some challenges, such as the evidence-room scandal, and added that were bound to be tensions between old and new management in the department. "We've had issues with [former Chiefs Will Annarino and Bill Hogan] and Anderson," she said. "Chief Anderson is saying 'enough.' Prior to this incident, we were seeing improvements in quality of service, responses from community saying 'this is working better.'"
As staff investigated and Council held closed sessions on the issue, Bellamy had previously said that the results of the investigation would remain confidential under personnel laws, although state law does authorize the release of normally confidential personnel information if approved by Council and the city manager, as a measure to maintain public confidence.
Facing a barrage of questions from the press, such as whether the city investigation found Wilke's allegations false and whether Anderson's overall conduct was inappropriate, Bellamy referred press to a written statement and shot back, "This is too important of an issue to try to trip the mayor up on words. I'm not just going to rattle off stuff to make you feel good."
Asked by Xpress about any specific actions taken in response to the "inappropriate" meeting between Anderson and Wilke, Jackson replied, "It was addressed as a performance issue with the chief." He motioned toward the Council dais and added, "That's the limit of what they'll allow me to say."