An undercover deputy accused in a road-rage incident will be suspended without pay for an unspecified period, Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan announced Aug. 3. Duncan said the deputy, whose identity was not disclosed due to the nature of his work, had made unprofessional remarks to 911 dispatchers.
Around 7 p.m. on July 9, Clyde resident Julie Brown says she was cut off by an unmarked car at the intersection of Patton Avenue and the Leicester Highway. After she blew her horn, the off-duty deputy got out of his vehicle and approached hers. Getting back in his car, he followed her down the road.
Brown's account differs significantly from the deputy's (which was backed up by his wife and child). Brown claims the deputy pounded on her windows and tried to open her door. He says Brown made obscene gestures, which she denies.
Both of them called 911, the deputy first calling the Sheriff's Office. In his 911 call, he can be heard saying, "She wants to act all stupid, so I want to show her how stupid she is when she finds out who I am." When told there were no units nearby, he said, "I'll just get her tag number down and pay her a visit."
That's where his actions crossed the line, Duncan explained.
"Once he got on the phone, assessed tag information through our criminal-justice systems, he was acting as a police officer," said the sheriff. "He should have been communicating in a professional manner, which he did not. We are taking action that will involve corrective training; it will involve a written reprimand that will result in days of suspension without pay."
Duncan wouldn't indicate the length of the suspension — or whether there'd been other similar complaints about the deputy, who's worked at the Sheriff's Office for 12 years. A written suspension, said Duncan, will stay in the deputy's file for six months and prevent him from pursuing a promotion.
"If there had been substantiated claims in the past that alluded to this kind of behavior, they would have been taken into account," noted Duncan.
Brown has also criticized the Asheville Police officers who responded to her call, saying they should have stopped the deputy and heeded her request to check for fingerprints on her truck. The APD declined to press charges, referring the matter to the Sheriff's Office as a personnel issue.
At the press conference, Sheriff's Lt. Kim Martin reported the investigation's findings, noting that the two accounts differed on several points. The Sheriff's Personnel Advisory Board, consisting of five members of the public, unanimously agreed with Duncan's course of action, he said.
If there'd been witnesses or evidence that the deputy had battered on Brown's truck and tried to open her windows, it would have been cause for termination and possible criminal charges, Duncan noted. But neither surrounding businesses' security cameras nor attempts to find other witnesses turned up anything conclusive, he said.
"I think there's definitely been some very teachable moments from this situation for our Sheriff's Office," continued Duncan. "We need to take a really hard look at how we communicate, how it's perceived, and learn a lesson from this thing."
Brown said she has mixed feelings about local law enforcement's handling of the incident.
"I'm glad that something's being done, that [the deputy] will get help with anger management," Brown told Xpress. "This whole thing was handled really, really badly. If the APD had pulled him over, if they had given him a sobriety test, if they'd bothered to check for evidence, we might have some answers here. I think they just let him go because he was a cop. That's not justice."
Brown says she's lost her job over the incident. "I worked at a Christian organization, and there's this deputy out there saying I'm making obscene gestures and acting like a maniac, so they didn't want me representing them. I've paid a much higher price than this deputy, just because I did what I thought was right. I just hope this has made things a little safer out there than if I'd done nothing. I can't say I've got no regrets."