Asheville City Council members emerged from a half-hour closed session during their July 11 special meeting declaring their support for Police Chief William Anderson. An internal investigation, they said, had found no evidence that he’d tried to cover up a March car crash involving his son, as Lt. William Wilke had alleged (see http://avl.mx/vd). The inquiry did find that Anderson had acted inappropriately in ordering Wilke, the watch commander the night of the crash, to meet with him while the State Bureau of Investigation was reviewing the case later that 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 announced after Council’s second closed session in a week. "We support our city manager, we support our chief of police, we support our Police Department," she added.
Questions about the March 9 accident have been simmering for months; shortly after the incident, Anderson admitted that he’d made mistakes in the investigation’s early stages (see http://avl.mx/ve). Wilke subsequently filed a formal complaint, and in a June 25 press conference, he charged that Anderson and Capt. Stony Gonce had pressured him to "change the facts" during the SBI inquiry.
Wilke’s complaint also maintained that he'd seen no action after raising concerns with city management, other than Anderson ordering him out of a meeting with the SBI the next day. The lieutenant also asserted that the APD’s rank and file have significant, ongoing issues with the chief’s leadership.
After the July 11 closed session, City Manager Gary Jackson explained that Wilke had spoken to his office on March 13 but that the city hadn’t felt a formal response was needed at that time. Senior city staff, noted Jackson, had directed the APD to fully cooperate with state investigators. Jackson said city management hadn’t heard any more from Wilke until he filed the June 17 complaint, which spurred an internal inquiry that took 20 hours of staff time and included interviews with seven people.
Jackson and his staff concluded that Gonce and Anderson hadn't tried to manipulate or coerce Wilke and that city had management had handled the complaint appropriately. According to the formal report that was distributed at the meeting, "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."
But Anderson’s ordering Wilke out of the March 14 meeting and into his office "was not appropriate,” the report continues, noting, “This issue has been addressed with Chief Anderson by his supervisor."
Vote of confidence
Throughout the July 11 meeting, Bellamy repeatedly expressed Council's confidence in Anderson. At the end of the meeting, the mayor asked Jackson, "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, citing a reduction in violent crime and the formation of special units to police downtown and public housing as accomplishments during Anderson's tenure.
The report, however, acknowledges "concerns within the department regarding general management practices." To address those unspecified issues, Jackson said he’ll call in outside experts and rotate captains so that Gonce is no longer Wilke's supervisor.
Bellamy later told reporters that it would be up to District Attorney Ron Moore to decide on any possible criminal charges against Anderson. She also observed that Anderson had inherited some challenges, such as the evidence-room scandal. She also said there 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 the community saying 'This is working better.'"
The mayor had previously said that the results of the city’s investigation would remain confidential under personnel laws. However, state law authorizes the release of normally confidential personnel information if approved by Council and the city manager, in order to maintain public confidence.
Facing a barrage of questions from the press, such as whether the city’s investigation had found Wilke's allegations false and whether Anderson's overall conduct was deemed inappropriate, Bellamy referred reporters to the written report, saying, "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." Motioning toward the dais, he added, "That's the limit of what they'll allow me to say."
At press time, controversy continues in the case. On July 12, another APD officer, Lt. Mark Byrd, came forward, alleging that Anderson has mismanaged the department. Byrd told the Asheville Citizen-Times that he will file a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.
— by David Forbes, email@example.com, 251-1333, ext. 137, @DavidForbes