A partial audit of the Asheville Police Department evidence room, completed last Friday and released by the District Attorney’s Office, reveals 115 missing items, including guns, drugs and money. The State Bureau of Investigation has sealed the evidence room, and are pursuing an investigation and full audit.
The partial audit, conducted by former APD Maj. Ross Robinson, was requested by the APD after Lee Smith, the longtime evidence room manager, left suddenly in February, following an investigative suspension in January. The partial audit checked for 1097 items and found 115 of them missing. That includes 27 guns, 54 pieces of drug evidence and 34 items of money and valuables.
“Mr. Robinson was unable to locate an acceptable percentage of the evidence which will now be addressed after a full audit by the new audit team,” declares APD Chief Bill Hogan in a letter to DA Ron Moore accompanying the report. “His report makes a number of recommendations that we will adopt as new procedures for the handling of evidence.”
Hogan promises a number of changes, including opening evidence packages during an audit and having outside witnesses when evidence is destroyed. He also promises to meet with Moore once a week “to discuss our progress and ensure we are addressing your concerns.”
As Robinson conducted the audit during February and March, he found an evidence room with items dating back the ‘90s — in some cases bags of marijuana stored so long the packaging had begun to decay — with some items filed under two different systems. “This leads me to believe the record keeping system is not completely reliable,” Robinson wrote.
His report also found 38 items of drug evidence “believed by employees to have been destroyed… I learned upon my second visit the items were still unaccounted for.” At the time of his report, there were a total of 13,889 items in the “high-risk” category (i.e. guns, drugs and money), in the evidence room.
Robinson concludes better verification of evidence destruction is required and that the APD needs to “close the loop” when it comes to personnel taking items of evidence to court. Robinson’s report indicated that “a former employee, simply by listing their personnel number on a document, could indicate an item was destroyed or disposed of.” In the future, he says an independent party needs to witness evidence destruction, and a daily accounting needs to verify that items taken from the evidence room to court reach their destination.
As the investigation continues, the APD has set up a temporary evidence room, and opened it yesterday. Moore, meanwhile, delayed trials relying on APD evidence.
— David Forbes, senior news reporter