Questionable conduct?

A case of domestic violence, alleged to have occurred in Buncombe County on Oct. 1, could be just one more of too many such incidents. But contradictions and omission of key facts in official reports related to this case, plus foot-dragging by various local authorities and the allegation that Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford‘s son, Jeffrey Lee Medford, is somehow involved, raise questions that deserve to be answered.

While Xpress can’t speak directly to how this case involves Jeffrey Medford — and we have no knowledge of any wrongdoing on his part — we do know that he is somehow connected to it. This is based on statements made by his father, an officer with the State Bureau of Investigation and a witness who saw the victim directly after the alleged beating.

But this story is not about Jeffrey Medford’s innocence or guilt; rather, it is about what happened following a 911 call reporting a case of domestic violence on Oct. 1.

Getting the facts surrounding this incident has been like pulling teeth. The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department has refused to turn over public documents that might clear things up. Witnesses and law-enforcement officers have refused to make statements for the record, citing fear. Public officials have consistently refused to answer questions or provide assistance in matters related to this investigation. And Xpress has been unable to reach Jeffrey Lee Medford at all.

On Oct. 7, six days after the events in question began, Bobby Medford engaged in a debate with Mike Ruby, his electoral challenger in the Buncombe County sheriff’s race. Discussing domestic violence, Ruby asserted that sheriff’s deputies should follow a pro-arrest policy, wherein they would be required to make an arrest when evidence suggests an assault has occurred. Medford pointedly disagreed with Ruby’s pro-arrest position.

“I still believe officer discretion is the best policy in nine out of 10 cases,” Medford insisted.

But how far should that discretion go if a case involves the sheriff’s son in any way?

A hidden story?

On Oct. 1, Buncombe County Emergency Services received a 911 call reporting a domestic-violence situation. An ambulance and a Buncombe County Sheriff’s deputy were dispatched to the scene. Under North Carolina law, the responding officer can make an arrest if there is evidence of an assault. (Arrest is only mandated in cases involving violation of a protective order.)

Sources have told Xpress that the alleged victim resided at the time with Jeffrey Medford, the son of Sheriff Bobby Medford. The property landlord said that Jeffrey Medford has vacated the premises since Oct. 1.

The circumstances surrounding the alleged assault are complicated, and public documents and sources contacted by Xpress paint a strange and troubling picture of events following the incident.

In the course of our investigation, Xpress has been denied access to the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department’s 911 tape — a violation of North Carolina’s open-records law. What the paper has learned has raised serious questions about the sheriff’s domestic-violence policy and the handling of an incident in which Bobby Medford has some conflict of interest.

The call for help

At about noon on Tuesday, Oct. 1, a Buncombe County resident, whom we’ll call “Ginger,” heard her young daughter screaming. She hurried up the hall to find another woman standing in her living room. She told Xpress the stranger was bleeding from her head and neck, and was bruised and battered. The stranger, whom we’ll call “Jane,” reportedly said to Ginger, “He’s been beating me for three days.”

Ginger picked up the phone and dialed 911. (Xpress has obtained one of the two separate 911 tapes. Buncombe County Emergency Services — which acts as a clearinghouse for all local 911 calls — provided its tape within 45 minutes of our request. We then requested the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department’s tape of the call — seven days later we are still waiting for it and a copy of the “for service” transcript. Capt. Randy Moss, charged with authority to turn over the tape, has not returned phone calls.)

We have deleted the phone number and road name from the transcript of the 911 tape we do have in order to preserve Ginger’s privacy. This call was received at 12:13 p.m. Oct. 1:

911 call center: “911. Fire, police or medical?”

Ginger: “Um, I don’t really know who I have to talk to, police or medical assistance. The lady who lives above me just come down to my house and her husband’s beat her really bad.”

“OK. Does she need an ambulance?”

“Um, yeah. She’s bleeding from her head.”

“She is bleeding from her head?”

“Yeah.”

“OK, what’s your address?”

[Gives address.]

“What’s your telephone number there?”

[Gives phone number.] “If the police could hurry, I’m kind of nervous, being I’ve got my daughter here, and that man’s still up at her house.”

“How old is she?”

“How old is she? She looks to be maybe about 30.”

“30?”

“Yes.”

“She is conscious and breathing?”

“Yes, she ran down here. I believe she has other medical conditions. That she is on other medications.”

“OK.”

“He’s right up above us and I’m afraid he’s gonna come down here.”

“OK, I’m going to get an ambulance started to you, but stay on the line with me while I transfer you to the sheriff’s department. OK?”

“OK.”

[Phone rings as call is transferred to Buncombe County Sheriff's Department.]

Sheriff’s department: “Sheriff’s office, 911. You have an emergency?”

“Uh, yes. This lady that lives above me, she’s just come down here, and her husband’s beat her really bad, or her boyfriend, I don’t know one, which one. But I’m afraid he’s gonna come down here and I think something else is wrong with her. She has blood coming from her head, her throat and stuff is cut, and she’s got bruises all over.”

“OK, this is on [street name]?

[Silence -- an unexplained blank spot on tape -- then the voices resume at a different sound level.]

“What number do you think it is?”

[Ginger gives address.] “She lives up above us.”

“What’s the girl that’s been assaulted? Do you know her name?”

“No, I’ve never met ‘em.”

“OK, we’ll get someone on the way.”

The missing hour

Ginger told Xpress that Jane decided to return to her home for cigarettes. Soon, she saw Jane driving away, alone, in Jane’s own car. Next, Ginger reported that the sheriff’s department “called me back at home and asked me which son it was, before they came out here. I told them it was Jeff [the name she had heard from Jane].”

At 12:22 p.m. the ambulance arrived on the scene and Ginger directed the crew to the property where Jane lived with Jeffrey Medford. The crew reported that no one was at the residence, and that a witness reported seeing a truck with four people in it leave the premises.

Shortly thereafter, according to the ambulance crew’s report, an unnamed male deputy sheriff arrived on the scene and searched the home. According to the ambulance crew’s supervisor, the deputy found Jane’s purse and a cell phone on a table. Ginger reports that these items were given to the landlord.

By 12:44 p.m. the ambulance had left the scene and was “back in service.” Some time later, the deputy departed as well. (See “The Timeline” sidebar.)

The incident report filed on Oct. 1-2 by Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Helen T. Hall and authorized by Lt. C. Frisbee lists the “time reported” as 1:53 p.m. — approximately one-and-a-half hours after the ambulance crew and other witnesses place three Sheriff’s Department vehicles at the scene.

(Confusingly, there are three different times mentioned in the incident report, which took two days to complete: The first page lists the time the incident took place as 1:53 p.m. Oct. 1; the second page lists the time the report was submitted as 6 p.m. on that same date; the third page lists the time submitted as 7:12 a.m. Oct. 2. Yet all three pages are written in the same hand and sentences flow from page to page.)

The incident report makes no mention of events reported by the ambulance crew and witnesses, nor of the deputy’s search of a home, nor the fact that the victim was missing. The report does state that there is a suspect, but provides no name. The incident report begins with information obtained by a deputy from the alleged victim at Mission St. Joseph’s Health System, where Jane had been delivered by a different ambulance not for the injuries that allegedly prompted the 911 call, but following a reported traffic accident, that occurred later in the day, in Woodfin.

According to an accident report filed by Sgt. Rob Austin of the Woodfin Police Department, and obtained by Xpress, Jane was operating her vehicle in Woodfin and rear-ended another car shortly before 2 p.m. (roughly 90 minutes after the 911 call). Jane’s car was “totaled” in the opinion of Cutshaw’s Towing owner Ron Cutshaw, who hauled the vehicle to his lot, while the other vehicle, a Humvee (a large military-style vehicle known for its durability) sustained damage estimated at $50 by the reporting officer.

The accident report, which Austin didn’t file until six days later, cites the “time” as 1:53 p.m. — the exact same time found on the sheriff’s report.

The accident report lists “no injury to either party.” However, Jane was transported to Mission St. Joseph’s by a Buncombe County ambulance. Xpress asked Austin why an ambulance would be called if there were no injuries.

“That’s not something I can get into,” he replied. “I can’t answer that question, I’m sorry.

“Fortunately, nobody was hurt,” Austin later added. “That was the main thing.”

The incident report filed by Deputy Helen T. Hall begins only when Hall or some other deputy spoke with Jane at the hospital a couple of hours after the 911 call. Capt. Lee Farnsworth of the Sheriff’s Department would not confirm or deny whether Hall had actually worked the case or had only “taken the report.”

As this story goes to press, no one from the Sheriff’s Department has ever interviewed witnesses at the scene of the original incident.

But according to Ginger, Jane returned to her trailer with a male companion a few minutes after emergency personnel had left. She ran in and collected some personal belongings, and the pair left again a few minutes later.

Ginger told Xpress that Jane was bleeding badly from a wound or wounds in her scalp and cuts on her hands and neck, which was also scraped badly when she arrived at Ginger’s home. She said Jane showed her severe bruising from her knees to her abdomen, and that Jane had stated that her boyfriend had tied her to a bed and beaten and kicked her for three days.

Hall wrote in the incident report, “I took pictures of victim’s legs and neck; injuries she advises were caused by suspect.”

One retired police officer consulted by Xpress characterized Deputy Hall’s incident report as “composed of hearsay that is largely irrelevant to the incident that is supposed to have occurred.

“My first reaction to what is in this report,” the officer added, “is, ‘Who was arrested?’ “

Many questions, few answers

In putting together this story, Xpress has run up against an absence of information and an apparent lack of a follow-up investigation by authorities.

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