A local woman’s accusation that an off-duty Buncombe County Sheriff’s deputy threatened her in a case of road rage has sparked an internal affairs investigation. She has also sharply criticized the conduct of the Asheville Police Department, which responded to the call.
On July 9, Julie Brown, a Clyde resident, says she was driving home from work when a jeep cut her off at the intersection of Patton Avenue and New Leicester Highway. (Scroll to the bottom of the page to listen to the 911 calls of Brown and the deputy.)
“He just moved over. There was no turn signal or anything and I was already slowing down for the light, so I had to stand on my brakes — I honked my horn, big time, because it scared the heck out of me,” Brown told Xpress. “I came to a stop and he jumped out of his vehicle, came over to mine. I hit the door lock, and he was screaming ‘what are you going to do’ at me. He tried the door handle, he punched on the windows. I couldn’t look at it. I was afraid the glass would break. I reached for my phone and called the police.”
She said the man then left and got back in his vehicle. She continued down the road, calling 911. According to her, the man continued to follow.
“He’s behind me now. I’m really freaking out, I’m scared to stop,” a distraught Brown says in the call. “He tried to pull me out of the truck. Now he’s behind me.”
Dispatchers told Brown to find a public place, and she turned her vehicle into the parking lot of a nearby Shoney’s restaurant, where she was met by Asheville police.
At roughly the same time, the man, an undercover narcotics sheriff’s deputy whose name is being withheld by the Sheriff’s Office, also called 911, saying that “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 adds that “I’m in my personal vehicle. I’ve got my family with me. She wants to act all stupid, so I want to show her how stupid she is when she finds out who I am.”
In the call, the deputy says that “I got over, I didn’t cut her off or nothing, and she gets right on my rear and she lays on the the horn. So I get out of the car to see what her problem is. She’s all cussing and raising Cain, so I’m like, I ain’t even going to deal with you, I’m just going to call.”
Later in the call, when the dispatcher says there aren’t any units nearby, the deputy replies “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.”
The Buncombe Sheriff’s Office of Professional Standards is looking into the case, Sgt. Randy Smart confirmed, and the investigation is ongoing. Asked if the deputy getting Brown’s tag number and visiting her house would have been professional conduct, he replied “No, it’s not. I’m sure he was just rattled and wasn’t thinking clearly. She lives in Haywood County and we don’t have jurisdiction there.”
The deputy in question has a distinguished record, Smart said, and “has not had any investigations or complaints before.” He added that the deputy’s version of events varies from Brown’s and he has denied touching or striking her vehicle.
Brown denies she was making any gestures, “I was gripping the wheel white-knuckled,” she said, adding that the deputy was so close behind her “I could see him talking on the phone, I could see his wife in the car…. I’m still talking to 911, telling them I can see him turning around. He went really slowly by [the Shoney’s].”
The deputy’s vehicle left, and the police arrived.
“The first officer on the scene asked if I realized I had just called in on a cop — I thought he was kidding,” Brown said. “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, they talked to him, but they did not ask him to pull over. They didn’t do a sobriety test or anything else.”
She said that she wanted to press charges and asked “them to bring down a crew [and] dust the side of my truck, because there were no prints on my door handle except his [the deputy’s]. They said that wasn’t necessary, that I needed to take a deep breath, calm down and go home. I figured they were pulling him over, doing something on their end. They were doing nothing. This man was being a threat. How is that protecting the public? They did not do their job. It’s not my job to build a case against someone who attacked me.”
APD Chief Bill Hogan told Xpress that the officers declined to press charges or file an incident report “because they both called on each other, we were not there to witness it. We verified she was safe and advised her to take it up with the deputy’s employer. If she had a problem with his actions, his demeanor, that’s a matter for their professional standards to deal with.”
As for the request to get forensic evidence from her car, Hogan said that “we don’t do fingerprints for something like that. 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.”
Hogan added that “speaking candidly, the unusual thing in all this is that she’s taken this to all the media, but my impression is she’s not cooperated much with the Sheriff’s Office. You have to wonder at people’s motivations. We get a complaint, we investigate that complaint. We get a report of misconduct, we try to correct it. I believe the Sheriff’s Office is the same. We want to get to the bottom of it, but we need a citizen’s full cooperation to do it.”
Brown said that after requesting the 911 calls, she was not pleased with the response.
“It’d been a few days and I was only asking for a police report number, and I’d given dates, times and names. In the reply to that, they apologized for the delay and said they’ve gathered the information and turned it over to Lt. Kim Martin [who oversees internal affairs at the Sheriff’s Office].”
Law-enforcement agencies have 10 days to get 911 calls, which are usually public record, to any citizen who requests them, and Hogan said that “we can’t just drop what we’re doing. There has to be a reasonable expectation here.”
Brown said she’s spoken to an attorney and then to Lt. Martin, who relayed the deputy’s version of events.
“He told me that the officer had called in to have someone pull me over for civic disturbance,” Brown said. “I told him this wasn’t going well and, in the future, I’d like him to talk to my attorney. He said that was my decision but said that I should keep in mind that at any time those civic-disturbance charges could be brought against me,” and added that Martin had said that that wasn’t a threat, just “friendly advice.”
But such a move is unlikely, and Smart noted that “I don’t see her facing any charges from this.”
When asked if Brown has been cooperative, he said, “as far as I know. Lt. Martin has spoken with her over the phone.”
“I can tell you this much, I do not trust the police now,” Brown said, adding that she’s considering a possible lawsuit against the APD for what she sees as dereliction of duty.
“This has been overwhelming,” she said. “I don’t want money. But some seriously bad, wrong things are happening and no one seems to want to admit it.”
Click below to listen to the 911 calls.
—David Forbes, staff writer