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Council considers matter for first time since commissioning still-suppressed audit of missing drugs, guns and money
UPDATE: Memo from Asheville Police Chief William Anderson to Asheville City Council, which is published below, details the “management plan” for the property and evidence room.
Originally posted May 23, 2012:
Asheville’s new police chief, William Anderson, spoke to Asheville City Council Tuesday about his plan to repair the damage wrought by the controversy surrounding the police department’s evidence room.
He described measures he’s taking “to try to get us back on the right track and moving forward” more than a year after news broke that an unspecified amount of guns, drugs, money and valuables had gone missing.
“Several steps have been taken, mainly to work on restoring trust and accountability to the process of collecting and storing evidence and property,” Anderson said.
The steps have included a new, nationwide search for an experienced evidence-room manager, the installment of a new security system at the police department and a plan to bring in an expert consultant to evaluate how the department currently handles and stores evidence.
But Anderson’s seven-minute appearance at the council meeting provided no new major revelations. The council’s reaction to it also suggested that members aren’t likely to press for the release of a $175,000 evidence-room audit council commissioned in April 2011, an audit that likely offers updated and exact details about what evidence went missing.
It did, however, offer a glimpse at how the chief, who started the job March 1 and inherited the scandal from his predecessor, will handle the matter. In a recent briefing for local media, Anderson called the scandal a “black eye” for his department that required a “healing process.”
“Our overall goal is to get our evidence and property room back to operating at its highest level of professionalism and accountability, while at the same time determining who is criminally responsible and ensuring that they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Anderson said.
The State Bureau of Investigation is handling the probe regarding the missing evidence, “and hopefully we’ll have that completed pretty soon,” Anderson said.
The audit of the evidence room, which was completed in January, remains in the hands of Buncombe County District Attorney Ron Moore, who has ignored and indirectly refused media requests to release it.
“At the moment, I’m plenty patient to wait” council member Marc Hunt said, in an allusion to the audit, which was never explicitly mentioned at the meeting.
“The city of Asheville did fund this. It’s ultimately our project, and our need to understand,” he said. “I’m confident we’ll get to that point.”
Council member Gordon Smith thanked Anderson, saying “I really appreciate the steps that have been taken to make sure that the evidence room is meeting those best-management practices, so that folks up here on council, as well as every member of the community, can have renewed confidence that that evidence is being treated in the most professional manner possible.”
Mayor Terry Bellamy noted that “this is one of those things that, over the last few months, a lot of people have had a lot of angst about it.” She asked, “How do we go forward to make sure the community’s informed in a way that’s not fear-based but fact-based?”
“I think, number one, we have to be transparent in the process in selecting this person,” Anderson answered. “Once the investigation is concluded, and once we can discuss the facts of the case, I think all of that has to be brought forward.
“The biggest thing, I think, is that we have to be open and upfront with the public and make sure we get information out so they truly understand what happened,” he said.
In a related development, council member Cecil Bothwell had previously told Carolina Public Press that he would formally request the audit report at the next meeting of the city’s Public Safety Committee, which he chairs. That meeting was slated for May 28 — Memorial Day — and has since been cancelled.
Read ongoing special report coverage on questions surrounding missing evidence at the Asheville Police Department.