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‘Unannounced’ inspections in Haywood uncover discrepancies, missing items

In the two weeks since Carolina Public Press published an initial batch of sheriffs’ evidence-room documents, additional records on how law enforcement departments in Western North Carolina are handling and managing evidence have been released and published for the first time.

In our initial report on March 14, we shared key evidence-room documents and information from eight of WNC’s 18 sheriffs’ offices, which we requested a month before that date.

Now, four other offices have responded, while six still haven’t — at least not with the requested records. Some say they’re working on fulfilling our public-records request, while others haven’t responded at all.

The new additions include records from Clay, Haywood and McDowell counties, and details on Polk County’s evidence procedures.

Documents provided by the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, for example, include detailed reports of surprise evidence inspections conducted in 2011 and 2012 by R.C. “Toby” Hayes, a retired State Bureau of Investigation officer who was formerly the special agent in charge of the SBI’s Western District. Hayes was hired by the sheriff’s office to conduct the inspections.

The 2011 inspection revealed that a custodial worker was authorized to enter the evidence room by himself — access that was later curtailed on Hayes’ recommendation.

The 2012 inspection turned up several “discrepancies” in record keeping and identified “missing items,” including at least small amounts of cash and drug evidence. “Not all evidence sought was accounted for or located,” the same document noted. “However, this is not to imply criminal activity has occurred.”

The report stressed that “evidence is accumulating at a much faster rate than it is being disposed of” and warned of the consequences.

Read the two reports in their entirety, along with all of the other documents obtained during CPP’s investigation thus far, here.

The sheriffs who haven’t provided records and/or answers to our evidence-management survey are those serving in Avery, Graham, Jackson, Madison, Mitchell and Swain counties.

CPP will continue to reiterate our requests for these records and publish the results as they become available.

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the lead contributing open government reporter at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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