More than three years after Asheville City Council commissioned a $175,000 audit of the Asheville Police Department evidence room — an effort to find out just how many items were stolen from the room — the audit remains under wraps.
And despite last week’s sizable electoral victory by Todd Williams, who stressed a need for greater transparency in his campaign against incumbent Buncombe County District Attorney Ron Moore, it remains unclear when the audit might be released to the public.
Williams defeated Moore in the Democratic primary for the seat, and at present he is the only candidate for district attorney who will be on the ballot in November.
Moore, who will remain in office through the end of this year, has held onto the sole copy of the audit since it was completed in January 2012.
He has rebuffed requests to make it public arguing that releasing the audit could impede an ongoing investigation. In 2012, Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Bradley Letts also dismissed a public records lawsuit led by Carolina Public Press and four other local media outlets who sought to have the document released.
Moore has said he’ll release the document only after Lee Smith, the APD’s former evidence manager, is sentenced. A previous, partial survey of the room’s holdings suggested that significant amounts of drugs, guns and money were missing, and in April 2013, Smith pleaded guilty to federal charges of taking between $10,000 and $30,000 in drug evidence from the room.
In late March of this year, federal prosecutors filed a “pre-sentence investigation report” in Smith’s case, taking one of the final steps that normally precede sentencing. However, that document remains sealed, and Smith’s sentencing has not been scheduled.
Meanwhile, in a May 9 interview, Williams told Carolina Public Press that the status of the audit is but one of many key issues he’ll be tackling as he prepares to take office.
“Some people have asked, ‘When are you going to go up and review the document?’” Williams said. “And to be frank, I haven’t felt that that needed to be my first action. What’s paramount to me right now is that I want to have a smooth transition.”
Examining the audit is “on my to-do list,” he said. “But my focus will be to put together a transition team first, and after that I’ll have some resources and advisers to help me know how we should proceed in regard to the audit.”
It’s possible that Smith will be sentenced and Moore will release the audit before a new district attorney takes office. If not, Williams said he’ll delve into the audit and weigh whether to make it public.
“Obviously, there’s been a lot of concern; this document was paid for by the public, and the public wants to view this document,” he said. “It’s been the second time where we’ve had a big problem with an evidence locker room here in Buncombe County,” he noted, referencing similar problems during the tenure of former Buncombe Sheriff Bobby Medford, who is presently serving a federal prison sentence for extortion and other crimes.
Williams said that he can’t yet determine “what precisely I would do, or could do, with the audit, without having reviewed what’s there.”
“I hope that Ron Moore has advanced a legitimate reason for why the document can’t be disseminated to the public,” he said. “But without having reviewed the document, I can’t make a comment about that.”
MORE: View this special report from a Carolina Public Press news partner, WLOS-TV: “Special Report: New APD evidence room:”