Into the vault

For journalists, keeping government operations open to scrutiny—and keeping public records public—is a year-round endeavor. But once a year, during Sunshine Week (March 15 to 21), Mountain Xpress joins thousands of publications across the country in making a special push to promote official transparency.

A year ago, we marked this nationwide celebration of freedom of information by introducing The Xpress Files, an online archive of government documents from local, state and federal agencies as well as court and law-enforcement records. Our objective was to make key memos, reports, e-mails and other materials readily available to readers, building a public paper trail of the kinds of primary sources that often tell the story behind the story.

Since then, the collection has grown to include thousands of pages of records on hot-button local topics ranging from the Bobby Medford corruption trial to the Parkside dispute to Asheville’s still-in-the-works Downtown Master Plan. Below, a few highlights from The Xpress Files; to see more, visit www.mountainx.com/xpressfiles.

Jon Elliston can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 127, or at jelliston@mountainx.com.

Ex-Sheriff’s Lt. Johnny Harrison’s video-gambling confession

How the deal went down: In his Feb. 28, 2008, confession, former Buncombe County Sheriff’s Lt. Johnny Harrison detailed how he delivered payments from illegal video-poker operators to then Sheriff Bobby Medford. Harrison took a federal plea deal and later became a key witness in the trial that resulted in Medford’s conviction.

See related documents in The Xpress Files

Highway Patrol on the attack on Camp Summerlane

Under attack: Last summer, Xpress published a four-part investigative series, Cruel Summer, about a 1963 mob attack on a children’s camp near Rosman, N.C. The morning after the attack, Col. David Lambert, commander of the State Highway Patrol, sent a report to Gov. Terry Sanford passing on the findings of Lt. E.C. Guy, who’d stayed up all night protecting the camp.

See related documents in The Xpress Files

APD predatory-towing sting

Towing bust:This excerpt from an Asheville Police Department incident report describes the results of a Dec. 20, 2008, sting operation against an Asheville towing company. Two employees of All Safe Towing—who allegedly towed a vehicle even though its space had been paid for—were charged with obtaining property by false pretense.

See related documents in The Xpress Files

ACLU on APD’s prostitution profiling

Profiling or good police work? In this March 6, 2008, letter to Asheville Assistant City Attorney Curt Euler, North Carolina ACLU Legal Director Katherine Lewis Parker takes issue with new anti-prostitution efforts by the Asheville Police Department, including publishing the names and photos of those arrested for prostitution and mailing postcards to the owners of cars seen cruising in areas known for prostitution and drug dealing.

See related documents in The Xpress Files

Judge’s ruling in Parkside/Pack family lawsuit

Giving back the Pack parkland: This Sept. 12, 2008, ruling by Superior Court Judge Marlene Hyatt found in favor of the heirs of early 20th-century philanthropist George Pack. Hyatt ruled that Buncombe County had violated the terms of Pack’s bequest when it sold a piece of public parkland to developer Stewart Coleman, putting a halt to his plans to build the Parkside condos on the site.

See related documents in The Xpress Files

Buncombe County audit of Pack Square Conservancy

Picking apart a park project: The Pack Square Conservancy has taken heat for the long delays and escalating cost of building the new Pack Square Park in downtown Asheville. An October 2008 audit by Buncombe County noted that the nonprofit organization hadn’t sought the county commissioners’ approval of its budget—as required by an agreement with the city of Asheville and Buncombe County—since 2004. A page from the audit lists four ways that, according to the county auditor, the conservancy fell out of compliance with that agreement.

See related documents in The Xpress Files

Plea agreement for moonshiner Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton

Taking a shine to famous moonshiner: How do you stop a famous moonshiner from making his liquor? This April 3, 2008, plea agreement shows that federal agents in Tennessee took the tack of going undercover and ordering ever greater amounts of his whiskey. In March 2008, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives raided the moonshine operation of Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton. Over the years, Sutton, 62, had made no secret of his talent with the corn squeezins, which he made and stored in eastern Tennessee and in Maggie Valley, N.C. Sutton sold an undercover agent about 300 gallons of untaxed whiskey and agreed to sell him another 500 gallons. The document explains that in their raid, agents discovered three 1,000-gallon stills, copper line, more than 800 gallons of moonshine and firearms. In January 2009, Sutton was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.

See related documents in The Xpress Files

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About Jon Elliston
An Asheville-based mountain journalist: Former Mountain Xpress managing editor. Investigations and open government editor at Carolina Public Press. Senior contributing editor at WNC magazine.

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