The state administrative office of the courts has denied a records request from local media for the audit of the Asheville Police Department evidence room, but a NC Press Association attorney maintains the audit should be public record. Meanwhile, more media have joined the push to release the audit.
District Attorney Ron Moore didn’t respond to open records requests for an audit that revealed the extent of missing guns, drugs, and money from the Asheville Police Department evidence room. Last week, Xpress began approaching local media to agree to a joint statement and push for the audit’s release. Shortly after, the Asheville Citizen-Times and WLOS both made records requests on the matter, and Moore said he would consult with the state attorney’s office. To date, Moore still hasn’t answered the records requests made by Xpress.
On April 24, Tammy Smith, the legal counsel for the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, responded to WLOS’ open records request as follows:
“The public records request submitted to Ron Moore, Buncombe Co. district attorney, has been forwarded for my review. Under G.S. 132-1.4, the records you have requested “are not public records as defined by G.S. 132-1.”
The section of law Smith refers to states that “Records of criminal investigations conducted by public law enforcement agencies, records of criminal intelligence information compiled by public law enforcement agencies, and records of investigations conducted by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, are not public records.”
But another section of state open records law states that “the use of a public record in connection with a criminal investigation or the gathering of criminal intelligence shall not affect its status as a public record.” According to North Carolina Press Association attorneys, that means that while internal documents about possible criminal charges, investigations, etc., are not public record, an audit revealing the state of the evidence room and how many items were missing is.
The position of those attorneys is still that the audit “should be a public record,” NCPA attorney Amanda Martin tells Xpress, after looking over Smith’s response.
Under the terms of the audit contract, paid for with $175,000 in city funds, Moore should have provided the city of Asheville a copy when it was completed in January. Earlier this week, City Manager Gary Jackson said the city doesn’t plan to push for that copy, and that he was satisfied with Moore’s handling of the situation.
In Martin’s view, city staff not pressing for a copy of the audit “demonstrates they are trying to artfully avoid the requirements of open records law,” as they would then be required to make it public.
Most of the area’s major local media have joined the push to release the audit. Two more media outlets — Friends of Community Radio (which runs Asheville FM) and Tribune Papers (who run the Asheville Tribune and Weaverville Tribune, among others) signed the joint statement yesterday. Xpress continues to talk with other local media as well.