A local woman claims an off-duty Buncombe County sheriff's deputy threatened her during a road-rage incident, sparking an internal-affairs investigation. Clyde resident Julie Brown also sharply criticized the conduct of the Asheville Police Department, which responded to her 911 call.
Brown says she was driving home from work July 9 when a jeep cut her off at the intersection of Patton Avenue and the New Leicester Highway. While stopped at a light, she honked her horn and says the man then got out of his vehicle and came over to hers, striking the car.
"He tried the door handle; he punched on the windows. I couldn't look at it. I was afraid the glass would break."
The man then got back in his vehicle and she continued down the road, calling 911. Brown says the man continued to follow her. Dispatchers told Brown to find a public place, and she turned into a nearby parking lot, where she was met by Asheville police.
Around the same time, an undercover narcotics deputy whose name is being withheld by the Sheriff's Office also called 911, saying: "I've got a vehicle here giving me the road rage, flipping me off. I don't know what in the world's her problem." The man added, "I'm in my personal vehicle. … She wants to act all stupid, so I want to show her how stupid she is when she finds out who I am." The deputy also denies cutting her off, saying he got out of his car just to see what was going on.
After the dispatcher said there weren't any units nearby, the deputy replied: "Well, she's heading towards home. She lives in Clyde. So you can just cancel that. I'll just get her tag number down and pay her a visit."
Sgt. Randy Smart confirmed that his agency's Office of Professional Standards is looking into the case. Asked if the deputy's visiting her house would have constituted professional conduct, Smart replied: "No, it's not. I'm sure he was just rattled and wasn't thinking clearly."
The deputy in question has a distinguished record, said Smart, and "has not had any investigations or complaints before." He added that the deputy has denied touching or striking her vehicle.
Brown denies having made any gestures.
"The first officer on the scene asked if I realized I had just called in on a cop. I thought he was kidding," says Brown. "My next thing was: So what? This person did this — whether he's a carpenter or a cop, it doesn't make much of a difference. But apparently it does, because they did not pull him over … or do anything else."
Brown says she wanted to press charges and asked them to dust her door for fingerprints, but the officers refused. "How is that protecting the public?" she asks. "They did not do their job. It's not my job to build a case against someone who attacked me."
According to APD Chief Bill Hogan, the officers declined to press charges or file an incident report "because they both called on each other, [and] we were not there to witness it. We verified she was safe and advised her to take it up with the deputy's employer."
As for the request to collect evidence from her car, Hogan said that's not normal procedure. "If he touched her car, so what? It doesn't prove anything. Maybe if the glass were broken that would be a different story. I understand the public wants certain things done, but they don't always understand the law."
Brown has been unhappy with the police response, saying that it took her several days just to determine that the matter had been turned over to Lt. Kim Martin at the Sheriff's Office.
"We can't just drop what we're doing; there has to be a reasonable expectation here," said Hogan. Law-enforcement agencies are required to provide recordings of 911 calls within 10 days to any citizen who requests them.
Brown says she's consulted an attorney and also spoken to Lt. Martin, who relayed the deputy's version of events. But after Brown advised Martin to talk to her attorney, Brown says Martin told her that "civic disturbance" charges could be brought against her.
Martin has denied saying this, and Smart said, "I don't see [Brown] facing any charges from this."
"I can tell you this much: I do not trust the police now," says Brown, adding that she's considering a possible lawsuit against the APD for what she sees as dereliction of duty. "This has been overwhelming," she says. "I don't want money. But some seriously bad, wrong things are happening, and no one seems to want to admit it."