Tonight, July 24, Asheville City Council heard the first public report on the Asheville Police Department evidence room, revealing a state of deep disarray. Mayor Terry Bellamy called the situation “appalling,” and the auditors estimated it will take at least two years to sort out.
Last year, shortly after news emerged that guns, drugs, and money were missing from the APD evidence room, Council approved paying $175,000 to Blueline Systems & Services for an independent audit. That audit was completed in January, but District Attorney Ron Moore has withheld the results, stating that there are ongoing investigations related to the case.
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.
Anderson said that the APD was already interviewing for a new evidence-room manager and would follow strict standards in making evidence more secure from now on.
After Anderson mentioned it would be helpful to see the recommendations contained in Blueline’s finished audit, Council directed City Attorney Bob Oast to draft a letter asking Moore to release that portion. The audit is currently in Moore’s custody. Local media, including Xpress, have sued the city and Moore for failure to turn over the audit.
In other action, Council:
• Unanimously passed a resolution asking Gov. Bev Perdue to veto HB 1009, a bill that, among its provisions, would allow a Metropolitan Sewerage District to run a water system. A legislative committee headed by Rep. Tim Moffitt has recommended that Asheville’s water system be transferred to the local MSD.
• Voted 3-4 against allowing skateboarding on some downtown streets. Local skateboarders have pressed Council to amend city rules and allow skateboards as alternative transportation, suggesting a “four wheels down” safety requirement. However, most of Council expressed safety concerns, saying skateboarding is impractical downtown. Bellamy and Council members Jan Davis, Esther Manheimer and Marc Hunt voted against the relaxed rules; Council members Gordon Smith, Chris Pelly and Cecil Bothwell voted in favor.
• Voted 5-2 in favor of the Hunter Apartments project, which will convert two abandoned houses near downtown into duplexes. However, the support was not enough to pass the project, because surrounding neighbors had filed a valid protest petition, which means six votes are necessary for passage. The neighbors told Council that allowing the project would increase density, something they asserted would harm their neighborhood. Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer and Council member Jan Davis agreed. The project’s supporters said it would eliminate a neighborhood eyesore while bringing affordable housing close to the city’s core.