At its July 24 meeting, Asheville City Council witnessed a jarring presentation on the audit of the Police Department’s evidence room conducted by the private firm Blueline Systems & Services. The audit, commissioned by Council in April 2011, documented missing evidence, shoddy record keeping and other significant problems, Blueline manager Mike Wright revealed.
Wright’s description of disarray at the facility bore little resemblance to the APD’s own prior inspections of the evidence room. Conducted on a quarterly basis in the two years leading up to the scandal, the inspections all suggested that the room’s operations were up to standard.
Among the internal reports, reviewed by Carolina Public Press and first obtained the Asheville Citizen-Times through a public-records request, is a memo describing a “walk-through inspection” of the room by then-Chief Bill Hogan and Capt. Sarah Benson. See the document, in its entirety, below.
The date was Dec. 6, 2010, about six weeks before the department’s longtime evidence manager, Lee Smith, was suspended from duty. (Smith resigned shortly thereafter.)
“We met and spoke with Property Control Manager Lee Smith,” Benson wrote in the memo, which she sent to Smith and Lt. Rae Ferguson, who was then the department’s accreditation manager. “The entire area was neat, clean, and well organized.”
Smith briefed the chief and Benson on his recent activities, including unclaimed-property auctions and destruction of guns and drugs, according to the memo. Then Hogan personally selected four items — two drug packets, a rifle and a handgun — for inspection.
“No discrepancies were noted,” the memo said.
As the Citizen-Times reported last April, internal inspections dating back to 2008 all came to the same conclusion: “No deficiencies noted.” See the article, “Asheville Police Audits Skimpy, Suspect,” here (subscription required). In each of the documents, Smith and other APD officers gave the evidence room a clean bill of health.
The internal inspections now stand in stark contrast to Blueline’s findings.
Some of the “evidence that we encountered had no understandable organization at all,” Wright told Council this week. “Thousands of pages of property reports, disposition (records) and correspondence have never been filed,” he added.
One of Blueline’s findings — that the evidence room was woefully overstocked — is backed up by some of the internal reports. The December 2010 memo, for example, noted that “due to the amount of evidence and property being submitted and processed on a regular basis, space continues to be a great need.”
At the Council meeting this week, Wright said that “an aggressive and continuous purging program must be implemented” to combat the space crunch, one of many recommendations he said are in Blueline’s audit, which is presently the subject of a public-records lawsuit filed by Carolina Public Press and four other local-media outlets.
The State Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the FBI, is investigating the matter, but no one has been charged with any crimes related to the case.