Over two months ago, Xpress requested a copy of the audit of the Asheville Police Department’s evidence room from District Attorney Ron Moore. We have received no reply. According to attorneys from the North Carolina Press Association, the audit should be public record, and Moore’s behavior violates the state’s open records law.
When the news broke last year that significant amounts of guns, drugs and money were missing from the APD evidence room, it sent a shock through the city, and Chief Bill Hogan resigned soon after. At that time, Moore released preliminary reports from an earlier partial audit showing problems with the evidence storage. Asheville City Council approved $175,000 for a full audit.
That audit was concluded on Jan. 9, but Moore has not released the results, either to the larger public or to city officials. On Jan. 20, after Moore’s receptionist informed Xpress that “he never checks [his email],” and no other official could turn over the record, an open-records request was faxed to his office, asking that he make the audit report public or cite a specific statutory reason why he couldn’t.
Under North Carolina’s open records law, public officials must comply with open records requests “as promptly as possible.”
Moore has claimed to other media outlets that the records aren’t public because they’re involved in an ongoing criminal investigation, but according to the law, “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.”
That means, notes Amanda Martin, an attorney for the North Carolina Press Association, that while internal memos on possible charges and the like are certainly not public, the audit report should be.
Mike Tadych, also a press association attorney, agrees.
“It’s an audit, a report showing discrepancies,” Tadych says. “Typically an audit doesn’t point fingers, it just says ‘this doesn’t reconcile.’”
While state statute doesn’t set a specific time limit, Tadych observes two months well exceeds the requirement that records be provided “promptly.”
“Certainly, with this record, you could find the copying machine in two months time,” Tadych tells Xpress.
“I could be wrong,” he adds with a chuckle. “But it would have to be really, really broken.”
Last Friday, March 23, Xpress faxed another open records request to Moore. This one signed by this reporter, News Editor Margaret Williams and Publisher Jeff Fobes, calling on Moore to turn over the evidence room audit report promptly. We have received no reply.