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Asheville police evidence room audit nearing end

CITIZEN-TIMES.COM, citizen-times.com
BYLINE: Romando Dixson

Asheville, NC

Company has billed city about $130K

ASHEVILLE — A Police Department evidence room audit has cost the city about $130,000, keeping the project under budget so far.

The company Blueline Systems & Services has scanned all high-risk items — money, firearms and narcotics — and could be within weeks of finishing work, Blueline director Mike Wright said.

City Council approved spending up to $175,000 in money from drug seizures after a partial audit found police had lost track of at least 27 guns taken as evidence, along with drugs and cash.

Blueline will send a report to District Attorney Ron Moore and the State Bureau of Investigation when the work is done.

Wright said the district attorney, SBI and the city will determine if additional work is required, potentially adding costs.

“We are possibly nearing the end of one phase,” said Wright, a former crime scene analyst with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. “If they elect to go on with it, it might go on some time longer. It depends on the discussion of those parties.”

Blueline Systems is being paid an hourly rate for work that began in June, and some employees are costing the city $85 an hour. Since April, the company also has billed the city for training, media interviews and meetings with attorneys and police, which cost $120 an hour, according to invoices obtained by the Citizen-Times.

Moore in April ordered the evidence room sealed and that an independent audit be conducted after learning about problems uncovered by a partial audit.

He also requested an SBI investigation after an assistant district attorney and defense lawyer went to the evidence room in preparation for a case against a drug suspect and discovered 397 pills of oxycodone were missing from an evidence envelope.

The discovery prompted Moore to drop drug trafficking charges against the suspect. The partial audit found that of 1,097 items audited, 27 guns, 54 containers of drugs and 34 packets of money and valuables couldn’t be located.

Wright said he could not discuss the results of his audit because of his contract with the city and the ongoing SBI investigation.

The Police Department is not updated on the status of the audit. The company’s reports go to Moore’s office and the SBI.

“APD won’t be notified of the results of the audit until the DA and SBI are satisfied that by revealing the results of the audit, it won’t harm any potential criminal investigation,” police Capt. Tim Splain said.

Blueline is still reconciling court system file numbers and law enforcement file numbers on some items.

Wright declined to say how many items have been scanned and counted but said the number exceeds 14,000.

With the evidence room being sealed, police had to create another place to store property. They turned a SWAT bay, where vehicles are usually kept, into a temporary property room.

Staff writer Jon Ostendorff contributed to this article.

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