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COLUMBUS — An audit of the evidence holdings at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office has been completed, weeks after an officer who processed evidence for the department was fired after confessing to stealing items, according to District Attorney Greg Newman.  And a report on what may be missing from the evidence room will likely be filed next week, according to local law enforcement officials.

Newman, district attorney for Polk, Henderson and Transylvania counties, told Carolina Public Press on Tuesday, Feb. 23, that he recently asked the sheriff’s office about the status of the audit.

“The audit itself has been completed — the physical part of that has been completed,” he said. “The written report is what we are waiting on now. We were told yesterday that (the sheriff’s office) expects to have it next week.”

Once he’s reviewed the report, Newman said, “I’ll meet with the sheriff, and we have to make some decisions based on what we read and see what recommendations are made.”

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Last December, a support services sergeant at the sheriff’s office, Christopher Byers, admitted to mishandling evidence, according to Newman. The district attorney told WLOS at the time that Byers, through a lawyer, had admitted wrongdoing and prompted his termination and the audit. Byers had worked with the sheriff’s office since April 2013.

The audit was conducted by BlueLine Training Group, a Clemmons-based firm led by former law officers, according to Lt. Lowell Griffin of the Polk Sheriff’s Office.

The audit was initially expected to take only about three weeks, but more than two months have passed since it was announced. Griffin addressed the delay in a Feb. 15 email to CPP.

“I believe that the consulting agency has encountered an issue in trying to sort out cases that go as far back as the (David) Satterfield and (Chris) Abril administrations,” Griffin wrote, referencing sheriffs who served Polk County from 1998-2006 and 2006-08, respectively.

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Abril resigned amid charges he’d committed statutory rape and ultimately pleaded guilty to two counts of soliciting indecent liberties with minors.

In Griffin’s email, he did not identify the “issue” the auditors encountered. Polk’s current sheriff, Donald Hill, was appointed to replace Abril, then elected to the office in both 2010 and 2014.

Looting of evidence by officers in North Carolina is “not uncommon,” former Asheville Police Department Chief William Anderson said in 2012 during his department’s evidence scandal. A CPP analysis conducted that year found that for about a decade leading up to then, N.C. law officers had been convicted of evidence theft at least once per year.

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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