“Things I can’t talk about”: Deputy in flag case not demoted, suspended or fired

Records released by the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 14 show that Deputy Brian Scarborough, who came under fire for his handling of the controversial flag-desecration arrests of a West Asheville couple (see “Flag Fight,” Aug. 1 Xpress) has not been demoted, suspended, transferred or fired.

Keeping mum: Sheriff Van Duncan has invoked public-records law in refusing to reveal what action was taken against his deputies in the flag arrests.

The records, which show Scarborough’s basic employment status, show no changes except a 4 percent raise given on July 7—three weeks before the July 25 arrests. The charges stemming from the incident were dropped on Aug. 3.

Sheriff Van Duncan, invoking state public-records law, has refused to release the findings of the internal investigation or the specifics of any disciplinary action taken. The public records only show such action if it involves a change in the deputy’s status or position.

Duncan’s interpretation of state open-records law is contradicted by Hugh Stevens, counsel for the North Carolina Press Association, who says that Duncan can release the investigation results.

The couple arrested in the case, Deborah and Mark Kuhn, say they’re disappointed with Duncan’s refusal to release the investigation results. They said previously that if Scarborough receives only “a slap on the hand,” then “the door is open” to possible legal action.

However, Duncan did tell Xpress that it was clear that Scarborough and his supervisor, Sgt. Caton McBride, had acted wrongly in the case.

“We knew that even before the internal investigation; that’s why the charges were dropped,” he said. “Moving forward on a statute like that, especially when it’s a complaint from a National Guard friend, was not a good move. He should have gone further up the chain and gotten more information. Also, we give nonemergency calls [in Asheville] that don’t take place in front of an officer to the Asheville Police Department.”

McBride had approved Scarborough issuing the Kuhns a citation for flag desecration under a rarely enforced 1917 statute.

As for questions about the accuracy of Scarborough’s report, Duncan said that “virtually every part of it matched up with what our investigators found out from witnesses.”

Duncan was then asked about Scarborough’s assertion in his report that Mark Kuhn had slammed the door on his hand, breaking a pane of glass and giving Scarborough cause to enter the house.

The Kuhns, as well as witnesses and neighbors, have said that the door was closed and Scarborough punched out the pane of glass before entering the house.

“That’s one of the things I can’t talk about,” Duncan said.

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