Asheville City Council briefed in public, private about police evidence room

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Chief: APD nears end of new evidence-room manager search

Asheville Police Chief William Anderson tells Asheville City Council Tuesday that the department is nearing the end of its search for a new evidence room manager. It was the only public discussion of the evidence room at the meeting; council also discussed a pending lawsuit on the still unreleased evidence-room audit in two closed sessions. The case is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, Sept. 4. Jon Elliston/Carolina Public Press

Asheville City Council had a marathon series of meetings yesterday, which started at 3 p.m. and ended more than seven hours later. The main council meeting covered dozens of agenda items, and one of them — the police department’s evidence room — was visited three separate times.

At the meeting, Police Chief William Anderson made a three-minute presentation on his latest steps regarding the troubled evidence room. Then council took the unusual step of holding two closed sessions — one mid-meeting and one at the end — to discuss a public-records lawsuit concerning the evidence-room audit.

Anderson’s update was the first of what is scheduled to be quarterly reports on the evidence room, which council requested at a meeting last month after an outside auditor revealed massive problems with storage, record-keeping and disposal of evidence items.

Anderson reported on three main developments. First of all, he said, the department’s nationwide search for a new evidence-room manager is reaching its final stages. The APD received 167 applications for the job before winnowing the list down to nine candidates. Interviews with those applicants have begun, Anderson said, adding that “we hope to have this person in place by the end of September.”

Next, he said, the department’s new evidence room (which opened in April 2011 after the old room was sealed by investigators) still lacks a ventilation system, so officers are researching potential fixes for this deficit.

Lastly, Anderson said, the department is forging a plan to purge old items, particularly “bulky narcotics evidence” from long-closed cases.

“We can work with the district attorney’s office to dispose of” such items, he said. “This will hopefully create some space and be the first step to getting the physical location a bit more organized.”

Anderson then welcomed questions from council. Mayor Terry Bellamy asked if she could “get a tour” of the evidence room.

“Absolutely,” the chief said.

Council member Gordon Smith commented that he’d like to tour the facility as well.

During the quick exchange, there was no mention of the city-commissioned audit of the evidence room.

That report, completed in January 2012 but still under wraps, is the subject of a public-records lawsuit filed by Carolina Public Press and four other local-media outlets.

The matter is scheduled for a hearing in Buncombe County Superior Court next Tuesday, Sept. 4.

In the midst of the meeting, council went into closed session for roughly 45 minutes to discuss the lawsuit. It was the third time, in as many meetings, that council entered closed session to talk about the pending legal matter.

Then, at the end of the meeting, council returned to closed session to discuss the lawsuit yet again, for an unknown period of time.

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About the Author

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the Investigations and Open Government Editor at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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