SBI seals APD evidence room, investigating missing drugs ***UPDATED 2:13 p.m. Thursday***

The State Bureau of Investigation has sealed, and is investigating, the Asheville Police Department property room due to 397 missing tablets of Oxycodone. The SBI claims the investigation was requested by the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office, while the APD claims the investigation began internally. Records obtained by Xpress reveal that the APD’s longtime evidence manager was placed under investigative suspension before his resignation earlier this year, though an APD official says “it’s difficult to speculate” if that’s related to the investigation.

The APD’s longtime evidence and property manager, Lee Smith, resigned on Feb. 18, after 21 years with the department. Personnel records obtained by Xpress show that Smith was placed under investigative suspension on Jan. 25. When asked if there was any relation between Smith’s departure and the investigation, Welch replied that “at this time it’s difficult to speculate, we’re exploring all avenues related to this incident.”

District Attorney Ron Moore tells Xpress that he asked for a full audit of drugs, guns and money in late February after Smith’s departure.

“There wasn’t any concern in particular, but after [Smith] left, I had a meeting with [APD Chief Bill Hogan] and sent a follow-up letter saying we needed an audit,” Moore tells Xpress.

On Friday, April 1, Moore says, Assistant District Attorney Chris Hess and the defense attorney for Terry Landrum, facing drug trafficking and firearms charges from 2009, went to examine the evidence, “they discovered that the two pill containers contained a crumpled tissue but neither contained a single pill,” according to a memo Moore later sent to local attorneys. Most of the charges against Landrum, who would have faced a mandatory minimum sentence of almost 19 years in prison if convicted, were dropped, though Moore noted there were other issues with the case as well.

Money, a gun, a bag with three and a half Oxycodone tablets and Landrum’s cell phone all remained in the evidence room. The missing tablets have an estimated street value of $20,000.

“I thought we were having a full audit of guns, drugs and money,” Moore says. “I find out on Tuesday that there was a [earlier] random audit that had turned up some problems. I was surprised to learn it was random, and I was surprised that for a week or so, the APD had been aware of some areas of concern that audit had shown, and no one had told me.”

At that point, Moore says, he called for SBI to shut the property room down and begin an investigation, along with an audit prioritizing evidence for upcoming APD cases.

According to Lt. Wally Welch, the investigation began within the police department, and the SBI and the District Attorney’s office were notified when it was clear evidence was missing.

“We requested their assistance in this matter and are following up on their recommendations,” Welch tells Xpress. “This is becoming a criminal matter and the SBI is taking over the investigation.” Welch added that it’s difficult say more than the department’s official statement (see below).

But North Carolina Department of Justice spokesperson Jennifer Canada agrees with Moore, asserting the request came from his office.

“I can’t tell you much, but I can confirm that the SBI is investigating the Asheville Police Department at the request of the Buncombe County DA,” Canada tells Xpress. “The request came from the DA, the SBI received that request yesterday [Tuesday, April 5].”

Welch also says that, at Hogan’s direction, the APD cannot publicly confirm if the missing evidence was drugs, or what kind. Canada, also, says she can’t confirm the nature of the missing evidence.

“We’re not even commenting on the nature of the investigation,” Canada says. “All I can confirm is that the SBI is investigating.”

In the official statement, Hogan promises “seamless cooperation” with the investigation: “A third party audit is forthcoming and evidence will be opened, examined and compared against logs to identify if this was an isolated case or if other evidence was compromised. … The police department takes this issue very seriously. We are taking immediate corrective action to make sure all vulnerabilities are addressed.”

Right now, Moore says, the SBI is trying to find a person to carry out the audit, “and APD is not to have any involvement in it,” Moore says.

Asked if he believed the missing evidence was an isolated incident, Moore replies “I have no idea, I hope it is, but what are the odds we plucked the one bag out of however many thousands of pieces they’ve got. I don’t know.”

Hogan’s full statement is below.

— David Forbes, senior news reporter

The Asheville police department is fully cooperating with the District Attorney’s office and the State Bureau of Investigation to address a matter related to evidence located in the property room in the Asheville police department. 

An instance of missing evidence related to a criminal drug offense prompted the investigation. A third party audit is forthcoming and evidence will be opened, examined and compared against logs to identify if this was an isolated case or if other evidence was compromised. The property room has been sealed and outside auditors will complete an inventory to verify and ensure the integrity of evidence.

The police department takes this issue very seriously. We are taking immediate corrective action to make sure all vulnerabilities are addressed. 

As a department, we pride ourselves on integrity and professionalism. Above all we know the public trust is essential to our work. For that very reason there will be seamless cooperation with the SBI and the District Attorney’s office to ensure timely review and resolution of this issue.

In the interim, the men and women of the Asheville police department remain committed to providing the highest level of service to the community.


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21 thoughts on “SBI seals APD evidence room, investigating missing drugs ***UPDATED 2:13 p.m. Thursday***

  1. dpewen

    I am glad the evidence is being put to good use … I hope they are having a big party!

  2. bill smith

    I’m sure those drugs are just missing, and did not end up back in the black market.

  3. Carmen Reed

    Ashville has been voted one of the most desirable cities in the nation to live in. That is an honor that most cities can’t boast. That didn’t happen without great leadership! This would have to including a great police department who cares about this city.

    A truly corrupt police chief could have kept this from ever coming to light, Chief Hogan didn’t do that he intends to clean the problem up. He is keeping his people “you” informed in what is going on and what he plans to do to fix the problem.
    I’m sure the drugs wound up back on the street. Money is the driving force especially in this time. That kind of money is too tempting for the average person. I don’t know of a single family that hasn’t been hit hard by drug addiction and the perils it brings to everyone in the family. It’s the same with this city We all agree thi has to be dealt with, which from my own experience isn’t easy . Consider what would be involved to completely eradicate the drug problem in this country! It would be as bloody as or worse than prohibition was.
    So before you judge everyone wearing a badge look at your own house, your own family have you been successful in keeping drugs from touching them???? If you have kudos to you count your blessings. I will be supporting the police in the hopes that the one or a few bad apples haven’t spoiled the bunch.

  4. @ Carmen Reed
    A city is special due to it’s people, terrain, architecture, spirit of the people…..all this is soo much more that it’s politics.

    Our city is special in spite of the politics.

  5. cwaster

    Glad this has come to light. I have heard stories over the years about money disappearing from people who get arrested, and drugs not being able to be found at trial. I knew there must be something to it- lo and behold, there is.

  6. MusicLover 45

    One of the things the public should be asking Chief Hogan is why wasn’t the District Attorney’s office notified immediately when they suspended their longtime evidence officer for “investigative suspension”. Evidence is held to be used in Court for prosecution of cases. When there are problems with an officer who oversees the evidence being held, whatever those problems are, the prosecutor’s office should have been notified. Not only does this show poor supervision on the part of the Chief, it shows very poor judgment once the problem came to light with the officer’s suspension.

  7. Info

    The suspended employee is not a police officer; he is a civilian. Everyone in that unit is civilian.

  8. MusicLover 45

    Thanks @info. Wasn’t aware of that but as dpewen said “what’s the difference”. My point is you had a police department employee that was working in the property and evidence section who was put on “investigative suspension” and the DA’s office was not notified immediately. Very poor judgment at best, at worse maleficence of duty on Chief Hogans part. The police department and the DA’s office should always work together to prosecute cases, not keep secrets from each other when things occur that dramatically affect the prosecution of cases.

  9. Info

    Just pointing it out for accuracy. If he’s the guilty party, it’s only fair to say that he is NOT a police officer. I agree 100% MusicLover, w/. your points.

  10. cwaster

    To clarify, all police officers are civilians unless they also serve in a branch of the military.
    Just sayin’.

  11. MusicLover 45

    I agree with you, Info. Police officers in general have a hard time with the public trust, and it is very important for the facts of this case to be published after the completion of the investigation. I am glad that the SBI is investigating instead of APD, as there hopefully will not be a question of any coverup to protect their own officers.

  12. bearsnotyuppies

    @Bill Smith-

    “Well, that would imply cops use and/or sell drugs…”

    Yes. Exactly.

    “‘If someone chooses to act inappropriately or in an illegal fashion it is very, very troubling because it has an impact on the entire organization,’ Hogan explained.”

    If it’s no surprise to the police chief, why do you act surprised?

  13. bearsnotyuppies

    “A truly corrupt police chief could have kept this from ever coming to light, Chief Hogan didn’t do that he intends to clean the problem up.”

    He didn’t say a word until after local lawyers tipped off the media. Why do you think the DA wasn’t informed for months?

    Are you really that naive?

  14. bill smith

    [i]The missing (397) tablets have an estimated street value of $20,000. [/i]

    Wow. OC’s sell for fifty bucks each? Wow. And oxycodone is the generic one, right?

    How many milligrams were the pills? Because that seems like an awfully high estimate.

  15. grimatongueworm

    @Bill Smith – Aren’t all drug estimates high? “Police seize 4 pot plants. Estimated street value $750,000.00”

    If someone gets prosecuted, the APD will probably get to claim that value in their drug confiscation tax.

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