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APD Evidence Room Lawsuit

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Published on Jun 26, 2012

A coalition of local media outlets filed a lawsuit today calling on the city of Asheville and the Buncombe Co. district attorney to release an audit of the Asheville Police Department's evidence room. The lawsuit, filed by WLOS and our partners at Carolina Public Press, along with Mountain Xpress, WCQS, and the Asheville Citizen-Times, claims the evidence room audit was conducted by a private contractor hired by the city of Asheville and, under North carolina open records laws, is a matter of public record. Last year, the city hired Blueline Systems to conduct an independent audit of the evidence room after it was discovered many pieces of evidence, including guns, drugs, and money, were missing.  The city paid 75,000 for the audit which was completed in January.  The audit results, which fill 15 three-ring binders, were delivered to Buncombe Co. District Attorney Ron Moore.  But they have not been released publicly, despite numerous open records requests to both the city of Asheville and the district attorney. The contract with Blueline Systems called for copies of the audit to be delivered to Moore and the city of Asheville.  But it stated that Moore could redact parts of the audit if releasing them would compromise investigations or prosecutions.  To date, the city of Asheville has not asked for its copy of the audit.  And city officials have previously told News 13 that they would let Moore determine if and when the city would receive a copy. A spokeswoman for the city says the lawsuit is currently being reviewed by the city attorney, and once that's finished, city council will be briefed.  The district attorney has not yet responded to our request for comment. "The issue represents a matter of substantial public importance because it involves not only the conduct and procedures of the Asheville Police Department, but also impacts the integrity of the cases investigated by the police department," the complaint states. The entire complaint can be found here."Carolina Public Press joins other media groups in filing this suit today because we believe this document belongs in the hands of the people who purchased it - the public," said Angie Newsome, director and editor of Carolina Public Press, the western North Carolina investigative reporting project that led to the coalition's formation.  "We must vigilantly protect the public's right to information because it is essential to transparent, open government." "News 13 is dedicated to holding officials accountable and being a voice for our viewers," said WLOS/WMYA General Manager Jack Connors.  "As an advocate for the people of western North Carolina, we believe it is in the public interest to release this information which was paid for by taxpayers.""Whenever government officials don't want something released, they claim it's under investigation," said Asheville Citizen-Times Publisher Randy Hammer.  "It's their way of hiding embarrassing information from the public.  And it's wrong.  Citizens should not have to fight their public servants to understand how their government works.""The evidence room audit should be made available to the public," said Margaret Williams, managing editor for news at Mountain Xpress.  "It was paid for with taxpayer dollars, and sharing the results - as the state's open-records law requires - would serve the public good.  Because local officials, including the district attorney, have essentially ignored or rejected our legitimate requests, our only recourse was a lawsuit.  Other local media reached the same conclusion, and we've joined forces to urge compliance.""If government agencies charged with protecting citizens' rights can simply ignore or decline media requests concerning important documents," Williams continued, "how well will they treat the general public?  We're glad to see local media uniting against this disturbing precedent.""WCQS believes strongly that it is in the public interest for the findings of this audit to be made public," said Jody Evans, executive director of WCQS.  "It is our role as a journalistic institution to serve our community by keeping the public informed.  When 75,000 of taxpayer money is spent on a report that may uncover wrongdoing in our law enforcement system, the public has a right to the information.  It is with that intent that WCQS joined with the other media organizations in filing this suit."

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