Every day, our journalism dismantles barriers and shines a light on the critical overlooked and under-reported issues important to all North Carolinians.
Before you go …
If you like what you are reading and believe in independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism like ours—journalism the way it should be—please contribute to keep us going. Reporting like this isn’t free to produce and we cannot do this alone. Thank you!
As the Asheville Police Department evidence-room scandal continues, a review of similar cases in the past decade shows a persistent problem for the state’s law enforcement agencies.
Asheville’s new police chief, William Anderson, might be feeling some déjà vu. At a recent briefing about his efforts to ensure that items such as drugs, guns and cash no longer go missing from the police department’s evidence room, he said he’d dealt with similar issues in the past.
“Unfortunately, this is not uncommon,” Anderson said of the controversy he inherited from his predecessor, former Chief Bill Hogan, who resigned shortly after news of the missing items broke last year.
“In my past assignment (as chief of police in Greenville, N.C.), I did have to replace the property manager and the entire staff that was working in property and evidence, so it’s something that I’ve been through before,” Anderson revealed.
None of those police employees were charged with crimes relating to missing evidence, Anderson said.
And as yet, no charges have been filed about the APD’s missing items, which are cataloged in an audit commissioned by Asheville City Council last April.
That audit, completed in January 2012, is the subject of a lawsuit filed this week by Carolina Public Press and four other local media outlets. The lawsuit seeks to compel the Buncombe County district attorney’s office and the city of Asheville to publicly release the audit documents.
A review of similar cases reported in the past decade indicates that theft from North Carolina evidence rooms — which are supposed to be some of the most secure facilities in the state — is indeed a regular problem, happening in a way that results in arrests of current or former officers roughly once a year.
Below are summaries of nine cases during that period, starting with the most recent. Some have led to criminal convictions for law officers. Others, like the cases involving the APD and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department, remain unsolved.
New Bern Police Department
In May 2012, New Bern Police Officer Frances Sutton was arrested by her colleagues and charged with seven felony counts of obstructing justice and evidence tampering. It’s alleged that she stole some 160 Oxycodone pills that she had confiscated from suspects.
In a recent court appearance, Sutton denied the allegations and said she is the victim of trumped-up charges orchestrated to run her out of the department. Sutton, who is a lesbian, said that other officers have disdain for her sexual orientation. She is currently awaiting trial.
Franklin County Sheriff’s Department
Last October, former Franklin County Sheriff Pat Green, who’d resigned in January 2011 during a State Bureau of Investigation probe, was charged with two counts of embezzlement. Green was accused of taking money from both his department’s evidence room and a fund set up for undercover drug stings.
Green was accused of taking more that $220,000 over the course of four years. He pilfered some $18,000 of that from the evidence room, an indictment alleged.
According to news reports and court filings, Green admitted to the SBI that he’d taken about $90,000 as he grappled with depression following his wife’s death in 2008.
Green was released after posting a $100,000 bond and is awaiting trial.
Wilson County Sheriff’s Office
Shortly after taking office in December 2010, Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard commissioned an outside audit of his evidence room. The audit, completed and released in July 2011, showed “large disparities” in items that were listed in a database and those that could be found.
The lost items included “weed” and “leafy material,” along with guns and cash, the auditor reported.
At present, no one has been charged in the matter.
Spring Lake Police Department
In October 2010, a Spring Lake police sergeant, Alphonzo Devonne Whittington Jr., pled guilty to stealing $2,900 in cash from his department’s evidence room. He was sentenced to two years in prison.
Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department
A late-2006 survey by Buncombe County employees found that the sheriff’s evidence room was in disarray and leaking like a sieve. The department is now known as the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office.
A report on that audit of the evidence room’s holdings, obtained and published by the Asheville Citizen-Times, hinted at the scale of the theft. Missing were more than $200,000 in cash, more than 300 guns and more than 1,300 packets of drug evidence.
Bobby Medford, who had served as Buncombe’s sheriff for 12 years, was soon thereafter convicted of extortion and corruption charges, and is presently in federal prison in Butner, N.C. Several of his co-conspirators were also sentenced to prison on related charges, but to this day, no one has faced charges for the missing evidence items.
Bethel Police Department
In 2006, Reginald Laverne Roberts, Bethel’s former chief of police, was sent to prison for 78 months for stealing and selling cocaine from his evidence room as well as illicit items acquired during a sting operation investigators staged against him. One of Roberts’ lieutenants, James Earl Cox, pled guilty to similar charges in a plea agreement.
Sanford Police Department
In 2005, a Sanford police officer, James Ed Gregory, was found guilty of stealing two pounds of marijuana from his department’s evidence room and given a suspended sentence.
Hillsborough Police Department
In 2003, Hillsborough Police Sgt. Timothy Mark Brewer was convicted of stealing cocaine and more than $4,000 in cash from his department’s evidence room, among other charges. He was sentenced to 16 months in prison and ordered to pay the money back.
Mooresville Police Department
In 2003, Debbie Comptom, an evidence-room custodian with the Mooresville Police Department, pled guilty to stealing more than $24,000 from the room. She was given a suspended sentence and ordered to repay the money.