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DA slams APD evidence conduct

The Asheville Citizen-Times (North Carolina)
BYLINE: By, Clarke Morrison

Buncombe County, NC

The Police Department waited five weeks before acknowledging it could not account for more than 100 items taken as evidence, Buncombe County District Attorney Ron Moore said Tuesday.

Moore again criticized police handling of evidence and what he called an inexcusable delay in letting him know the extent of problems with the department's evidence room, including missing guns, drugs and cash.

The District Attorney's Office has undertaken a review of 2,200 cases to see whether they could be compromised and has halted jury trials.

The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating police handling of evidence at Moore's request and the district attorney has ordered that a full, independent audit be done.

Moore said police Chief Bill Hogan late Friday sent him preliminary results from a partial audit of the room done by former APD Maj. Ross Robinson, an instructor with the N.C. Justice Academy.

The materials Moore received included a March 6 letter Robinson wrote to Hogan explaining that he could not find 161 of 807 items selected for a sample audit.

The police evidence room includes nearly 14,000 items considered high risk, such as weapons and drugs.

"It's incomprehensible to me how anybody would think they are not obligated to tell the Office of the District Attorney that at first blush they had a 20 percent problem," Moore said. "I can't answer why they did not tell us."

He would have ordered the evidence room sealed immediately to protect the integrity of future cases had he known of the problems then, he said.

And he would not have submitted cases to a grand jury on March 7 and April 4, Moore said. The District Attorney's Office typically presents dozens of cases at a time to a grand jury.

Hogan said Tuesday he didn't inform Moore about Robinson's findings because he assumed at the time the items had just been misplaced. Some were later found.

A more serious problem wasn't suspected until April 1 when an assistant district attorney and a defense lawyer went to the evidence room and discovered two containers inside an evidence envelope were empty, Hogan said.

Records showed the containers were supposed to contain 397 pills of the prescription painkiller oxycodone.

"If there had been any indication that led us to believe there has been some wrongdoing rather than just (evidence) misplaced, we would have notified the district attorney immediately," Hogan said. "If I had thought based on what I read in the letter that there was any tampering, we would have told him immediately."

Moore said he asked for a full audit of all guns, drugs and money in the evidence room in February after being briefed about the departure of APD's longtime evidence room manager, William Lee Smith.

According to personnel records released by the city, Smith was placed on paid investigative suspension on Jan. 25 and resigned on Feb. 18.

Robinson said in an April 5 letter to Hogan that his audit had grown to a search for 1,097 pieces of evidence. Of those, 115 remained unaccounted for.

Those included 27 guns, 34 packets of money and valuables and 54 containers of drugs.

Hogan said the missing pills were likely taken by a single officer "whose moral compass failed," casting a pall of distrust over the entire department."It's a shock and a disappointment to think someone in your midst would do something to jeopardize the evidence," Hogan said.

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International Association for Property and Evidence
"Law Enforcement Serving the Needs of Law Enforcement"
Missing evidence halts man's trial;
Guns, other evidence missing, sample audit says

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