From the Mountain Xpress, mountainx.com
APD investigates allegations of excessive force in local musician’s arrest
June 3, musician Juan Holladay walked away from the Pritchard Park drum circle, handing out fliers for his show later that night at MoDaddy’s. As he walked past the Elizabeth Blackwell memorial marker on Patton Avenue, he saw several Asheville Police Department officers talking to a man. He had no idea that what happened next would get him arrested and start an APD internal investigation into the officers’ conduct.
“It didn’t seem that serious; they didn’t have the sidewalk blocked off,” Holladay says. “I handed a flier to a young man that looked like he was a friend to the guy [who] was being talked to. The officers seemed relaxed. I handed him a flier and walked away. An officer blocked my way and asked if I saw what was going on. He asked if I knew them, pointing back to three young men.”
Holladay replied that he didn’t know the others. Then, he says, the officer grabbed his wrist “and held it in a way that communicated to me that I was in big trouble.
“I felt this had already escalated way beyond what was necessary,” Holliday recalls. “I thought I should let him know. I said ‘Sir, you don’t need to be so agro.’ I meant to say ‘aggressive,’ but I was nervous. I hoped [the officer] would see me being calm and the situation would de-escalate. He then said ‘OK’ and twisted my arm around behind my back, with enough force to shock me.”
The officer started yelling for Holladay to get on the ground, something he claims was difficult, given his position.
“It should have been an easy process: I was cooperating as well as I could, but I was in shock and afraid,” Holladay says. At that point, he felt multiple officers restrain him.
“They kept yelling at me to get on the ground — it felt like there was one on each limb — but I kept telling them I didn’t have any control over my person at that point,” he says. “I think they were panicked. People had gathered around and were shouting ‘police brutality’ and ‘excessive force.’ The situation got out of control really fast.”
Other officers moved to get the crowd back, as another “started choking me from behind” using his bicep, Holladay claims. “It got tighter and tighter. I thought he was trying to choke me unconscious. He was pumped up on adrenaline. I worried he would snap my neck. I called out to him, told him. He stopped trying; I have a skinny neck.”
At that point, Officer Leslie Torgow put a can of pepper spray to his face and asked him to comply. Then, Holladay says, the other officers relaxed enough that he could get on the ground. “I was grateful for [Torgow’s] presence. She took charge of the situation, made a plan [that] gave me a chance to comply without other officers interfering. Except for her, the other officers never gave me a chance to cooperate.”
Among the passersby that night was Rick Fornoff, who describes what he saw. “I assumed the APD had captured some armed and dangerous drug dealer, just by the way they were acting. There was a lot of physical activity going on. There were a lot of police cars there. The crowd was upset with what was going on.
“Somebody was being tackled,” Fornoff tells Xpress. He’s worked with Holladay as a volunteer with the TEDxAsheville conference, and says he was surprised when he found out who the officers were restraining. “Really? He can’t weigh more than 130 pounds, and he’s a gentle soul.”
Holladay, a part-time pre-school teacher, was charged with resisting public officers and creating a public disturbance. He was released from the Buncombe County jail later that night on a promise to appear. He says he had a bloodied chin, some bruises, and soreness for about a week, but he met his band in the jail waiting room and still played his show afterwards. He did not seek medical treatment.
There is no incident report for his arrest, but the APD, through spokesperson Lt. Wally Welch, after requests from media, released an account asserting Holladay belligerently interfered while officers were in the process of arresting three people for putting stickers on city power poles.
“Mr. Holladay stepped into the middle of my investigation and interfered,” Officer Daniel Britt says in the APD’s account. “[Officer Willie] Carswell told him to leave and Holladay said. ‘Fuck you, I don’t have to.’ Carswell told him he was under arrest and then Holladay resisted.
“A large crowd gathered and [Holliday] was taken into custody and transported by Britt and Carswell. From my perspective, the officers did their duty in a reasonable manner,” Welch writes. “It should also be noted that Mr. Holladay has never been to the department to file a complaint about his treatment.”
Holladay denies he cursed the officers when they approached him, or that they asked him to leave before restraining him. He says he cursed while being choked, saying, “You’re going to breaking my f’ing neck,” and when he was lifted off the ground, he said, “‘You’re playing tug of war with me like an f’ing rag doll.’ I didn’t directly curse at any officers.”
According to the APD’s guidelines on using force, “officers may only use the force necessary to carry out a legal purpose.”
When asked what actions did Holladay take that interfered with Britt and Carswell’s investigation, which officer restrained him first, how did they do it, how did he resist, Welch replied, “I would love to provide some clarity for you on this, but I’ve since been advised that this has turned into an internal investigation and am not allowed further comment.”
Holladay admits he hasn’t filed a formal complaint. Instead, he approached City Council member Cecil Bothwell via Facebook and made a public call on his Facebook page for witnesses from the crowd to come forward. Bothwell confirms he asked City Manager Gary Jackson to look into the matter. Holladay later received a call from Jackson’s office about meeting with an internal affairs officer. As Welch confirms, the department began an investigation.
Holladay’s court date is Sept. 13.
— David Forbes, senior news reporter
ASHEVILLE— In a Tuesday evening ceremony, the Asheville Police Department recognized 31 individuals who completed its Citizens Police Academy.
The program, offered twice a year, takes the participants through in-depth tours and descriptions of the inner workings of the Asheville Police Department to give them a better understanding of law enforcement and build relationships with officers.
As stated by Community Resource Officer Jackie Stepp in her opening remarks, “Our goal is to build a bridge of open communication between the APD and the community we serve, and to educate the citizens of Asheville about the policies, procedures, and operations of their police department.”
Three-hour classes over 13 weeks covered all aspects of law enforcement including patrol, forensics, constitutional law, criminal investigations and gang/vice operations, giving the participants a more intimate knowledge of the skills and risk it takes to protect and serve.
Class representative Marcia Bosworth stated during her comments that learning about all the behind the scenes specialty units and equipment was great; but that what she came away most impressed with “…was the depth of dedication that the officers had to their job.”
Class participant Nancy Walker found the entire experience: “Awesome – I recommend this program to people all the time. It’s a great program”.
The Asheville Police Department hosts a Citizens Police Academy twice a year, as well as a Junior Citizens Police Academy in the summer.
Participants must apply and be accepted in order to participate. For more information about these programs, contact Officer Jackie Stepp at 251-4078 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ASHEVILLE— Warming weather has signaled the start of the “checkpoints season,” a months-long period where local law enforcement will set up sobriety, seat belt and license checkpoints throughout Western North Carolina.
One group of activists has noticed a pattern in this that disproportionately affects minorities, specifically Latinos.
With racial profiling, there is a presumption by law enforcement that because a person is of a certain race, that individual is more likely to be engaging in illegal behavior, racial justice fellow Raul Pinto said Sunday during the annual meeting of the WNC chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.
He was the featured speaker at the event, which drew an audience of about 50 to the community room of Congregation Beth HaTephila.
“We find that is the case here,” Pinto said. “Police officers and local law enforcement agencies are making the assumption that just because you are Latino, you are more than likely to be undocumented.”
Sunday’s discussion included strategies used by the ACLU and its partners to combat racial profiling.
Checkpoints, Pinto said, are more likely to be set up in economically challenged neighborhoods where a majority of the residents are Latino. Through interviews, reported and anecdotal incidents, and with the help of experts, the ACLU has been able to conclude that the motivation of law enforcement appears to be financial rather than racial, contrary to popular belief.
Every time a person is ticketed for not having a license, it costs about $185, Pinto said.
“A lot of these folks, first off, are low-income,” he said. “They don’t make a lot of money and so most of their income is going to go to pay these tickets. We have heard reports that people have been stopped twice in one week because the checkpoints are basically outside their doors.”
The practice may raise revenues for the agencies, but it hurts the relationship between the Latino community and the police, Pinto said.
This relationship was strained recently by the arrest of Antonio Hernandez Carranza. He had cocaine charges filed against him after a field test incorrectly showed traces of the drug in the tortilla dough, cheese and other food he was transporting.
“I think that the way that you have seen, specifically with checkpoints, is that it creates this mistrust between the community and the local law enforcement agencies,” Pinto said. “It could play in the mind of the community where an incident like this could be racially motivated.”
In the audience was City Councilman Cecil Bothwell, who is launching a bid for U.S. House of Representatives. Bothwell, who was representing a coalition of faith-based groups, recently met with Asheville Police Department officials to talk to them about the use of the checkpoints, among other things.
“They (police officials) said the checkpoints, sometimes they get backed up and sometimes they just let a bunch of cars through,” Bothwell said. “But it seems like a real easy way to skip a bunch of Caucasians without counting … They claim that they don’t position them by ethnic neighborhoods but by high-crime neighborhoods, and that’s a real tough distinction to make.”
The ACLU-NC has been looking at different avenues to relieve the burden on the Latino community, including litigation.
But it faces challenges specially if the individuals are undocumented and are wary of identifying themselves as such in court.
Groups like Defensa Comunitaria, with Nuestro Centro, have volunteers that operate a hot line that both document locations and monitor police as they operate the checkpoints to keep protest the practice and to protect the individuals affected.
“It goes beyond tickets, it goes to breaking up families,” said Angelica Reza Wind. “Just recently this family was going out for a Sunday afternoon picnic. The father went to get sandwiches, and he got pulled over because he didn’t have his turn signal on. I do that all the time and so this family who was just going to go on a picnic got to see (the) father detained and subsequently deported.”
As we previously posted, it looks like DAs in North Carolina are attempting to get the rules changed for the NC Innocence Inquiry Commission, so that people who plead guilty aren’t eligible to contest their convictions.
From Asheville Citizen-Times
ASHEVILLE— Even though they pleaded guilty to murder, Kenneth Kagonyera and Robert Wilcoxson have steadfastly professed their innocence and will get the chance to prove it in a special hearing before a panel of three judges.
But under proposed changes to the law that created the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission, they wouldn’t have that opportunity.
The N.C. Conference of District Attorneys is pushing a bill in the General Assembly that would place new restrictions on the commission, including barring defendants who pleaded guilty from applying for help.
Opponents argue that it’s not that unusual for someone who professes their innocence to plead guilty to a crime, and it makes no sense to disqualify them. Some defendants admit guilt because of the threat of a harsher sentence if they don’t.
But Peg Dorer, executive director of the Conference of District Attorneys, said the 2006 law that created the commission needs to be amended.
“The district attorneys feel strongly that if a defendant has pleaded guilty, then they should not be able to go back and say, ‘I change my mind. I’m innocent,’” she said. “The innocence commission is a very unique agency. It has a very unique and specific function, and that is to identify new evidence of innocence.”
Dorer said that criminal defendants have the option to file what’s called a motion for appropriate relief with the court if new evidence emerges.
“If you plead guilty and you are not guilty, you and your attorney need to work this out and file a motion for appropriate relief,” she said. “We’ve said from the beginning there are already procedures in the court system if you have new evidence.”
Kagonyera and Wilcoxson maintained in depositions to the innocence commission they pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 2000 slaying of Walter Rodney Bowman because they feared possible sentences of life in prison or the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder at trial.
“People plead guilty for all sorts of reasons unrelated to whether they are really guilty or not,” said Asheville criminal defense lawyer David Belser, who opposes changing the innocence commission law.
“I think it would be unfair and unnecessary,” he said. “I think our system needs a way to help innocent people prove their innocence.”
According to the Innocence Project, a New York-based advocacy organization, about 25 percent of defendants exonerated by DNA evidence made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pleaded guilty to the crime.
Reasons cited by the group include threat of a harsh sentence, misunderstanding the situation, coercion, diminished capacity, fear of violence, ignorance of the law and mental impairment.
Sylva attorney Mark Melrose said there’s no evidence that the innocence commission has been bogged down with frivolous cases.
Of the more than 850 innocence claims submitted to the commission and screened by its staff, about 22 percent involved guilty pleas.
But just four cases have reached the hearing stage. Only one defendant, Greg Taylor, a Cary man convicted of murdering a prostitute in 1990, has been exonerated.
“There is so little risk to the state to allow an innocent person to litigate their actual innocence, even if they pleaded guilty,” Melrose said. “If they are actually innocent, then who should care whether they pleaded guilty because they were under duress or whether a jury incorrectly convicted them?”
The bill pending in the state House also would amend the law to change the standard of evidence used by a three-judge panel charged with determining innocence. Those convicted would have to prove innocence beyond a reasonable doubt, rather than by clear and convincing evidence.
Melrose believes he knows why the Conference of District Attorneys wants the innocence commission law watered down.
“I don’t think any district attorney’s office wants to admit they got it wrong,” he said. “Nobody wants their dirty laundry aired. They want to keep it in the closet.”
Buncombe County District Attorney Ron Moore said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the proposed change because he’ll serve as prosecutor when the Kagonyera and Wilcoxson case goes before a judicial panel in Asheville. The hearing is scheduled to begin July 18.
District Attorney Mike Bonfoey, the top prosecutor for Haywood, Jackson, Swain, Macon, Graham, Cherokee and Clay counties, also declined to comment.
The innocence commission ruled unanimously at the conclusion of a two-day hearing last month in Raleigh that there’s enough new evidence that Kagonyera and Wilcoxson didn’t murder Bowman to warrant the judicial hearing.
Commission investigators detailed flaws in the cases against the suspects, including a confession by a man who was never charged and DNA evidence linking another to Bowman’s slaying.
As part of the $52,100 settlement of sexual harassment lawsuit by former Asheville Police Department officer Cherie Byrd against the city of Asheville and her former superior Eric Lauffer, the city received back all of the documents it provided to Byrd, according to records obtained by Xpress.
“We are trying to maintain as much confidentiality [as possible] as this is a personnel matter,” minutes from the April 12 closed session quote Rendi Mann-Stadt, an outside attorney representing the city in the case, as saying. As part of the terms of the settlement, a protective order on the case remains in effect, and Byrd is required to return all documents provided to her or her attorneys by the city.
Lauffer, who is still employed by the APD, though he was demoted following the lawsuit, sent Byrd explicit and racially offensive text messages while she was under his command as part of the Drug Suppression Unit. Byrd alleged that both APD officials and city staff failed to respond to her complaints and, after receiving a go-ahead from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sued Lauffer and the city last year. She has since left the department. A Dec. 14 city attorney’s memo updating Council on the case asserted that after medical and maternity leave, “Ms. Byrd has refused offers to return to work.”
The same memo declares that “the City appears to have several strong defenses, but the matter is still in the discovery phase, so the strength of the case and the potential damages (which could include attorney’s fees) are difficult to estimate at this time.”
The documents also reveal that the amount of the settlement — $48,000 in back wages and $4,100 in mediation fees — was arrived at after a day-long mediation between the parties in late March. On April 12, Council member Bill Russell made the motion for the settlement, which Council member Gordon Smith seconded. The minutes don’t record any discussion or comments by anyone of the elected officials, and they approved the settlement unanimously.
An April 1 memo to Council from City Attorney Bob Oast reveals that details about the settlement were leaked to news media, “and that the media has begun contacting City officials.” At the closed session, Council authorized Oast to release the details of the settlement.
— David Forbes, senior news reporter
Seriousl the APD appears to literally not know when to take a break from messing up. These guys have to be the dumbest cops in the state.
From the Citizen-Times:
ASHEVILLE— Larry Smith had planned on taking a stroll through downtown Monday afternoon after finishing up business at the county courthouse.
Instead, Smith found himself surrounded by police officers, military vehicles with machine guns inside and a group of snipers lying on the grass in the new Pack Square Park,
A series of explosions as the snipers fired made it sound as if a bomb had gone off, he said.
“There were people all around that were frightened,” Smith said. “There were four people pushing strollers, and they were getting out of there. They almost broke into a run to get out of there.
“I wouldn’t have believed it unless I saw it,” he said. “It was that crazy.”
The exercise was a part of a sniper class being conducted by the Asheville Police Department. The class, which includes trainees from across the region, was practicing sight and sound testing, and covert placement, police spokesman Lt. Wally Welch said.
Welch said there should have been signs and uniformed police officers there to explain what was going on. Smith said there were no signs and no warning before the explosions.
Welch said there was miscommunication between the training division and the rest of the department. Department administrators were not aware of the training exercise until a few hours before it occurred, he said.
Welch said the department’s interim chief was talking to the training officers Monday afternoon about the incident.
“We apologize for the miscommunication,” Welch said. “This should be the one and only time it happens this week.”
Smith said the group of officers was acting “like cowboys.”
“If you are going to do a training exercise, do it somewhere where there’s not people around,” Smith said. “There were kids in the play area and people milling around. It shocked people when they heard the explosions.”
Looks like there are inherent problems with the drug tests used here in Buncombe county, unless of course as everyone assumes the Sheriff’s Department is just covering up for racist policing
From Asheville Citizen Times
ASHEVILLE — A favorite food of millions may have been the culprit in false drug-test results that led to a California man’s jailing on cocaine charges.
The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office said Friday an enzyme present in cheese and possibly some types of dough appeared to have yielded false results that led to cocaine charges against Antonio Hernandez Carranza. Hernandez spent four days in the Buncombe County jail until state lab results showed the substances in the back of his truck were tortilla dough, cheese and other food.
Buncombe Sheriff Van Duncan and Lt. Randy Sorrells said they only recently learned how the common food can fool drug tests. Positive tests are considered probable cause and can be used to bring charges and jail suspects under high bonds, effectively keeping them imprisoned.
Along with revealing the test flaw, police are also now saying they will reimburse Hernandez for $400 in food taken following his May 1 arrest.
The plight of the Mexican national, who is a legal resident but speaks little English, angered Latino advocates and brought widespread attention to the Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff said officials are trying to speak with the president of the company of at least one of the test manufacturers.
“What we are going to do now is check with the manufacturers and find out what they have found can cause false positives and put that into the training with our officers,” Duncan said.
Three different field tests indicated the presence of cocaine in food Hernandez said was a gift for his sister in Johnson City, Tenn.
Already in jail under a $1,500 bond for failing to heed blue lights and sirens and driving while intoxicated — a charge later dropped after a breathalyzer test showed no alcohol — Hernandez was charged with cocaine possession and his total bond raised to $300,000.
Deputies say they rushed the food to a state lab for a more definitive test, where they soon learned there were no drugs involved. Hernandez was found guilty of failing to heed lights and sirens and let go on time served.
Confused deputies later redid the tests, which rely on a color change, and noticed that cheese set it off the most, as did the dough, to a lesser extent, Sorrells said.
They then went to state lab technicians.
“They said, ‘It’s not common, but it is known. It’s not the first time they had ever heard of it,” Sorrells said.
Deputies have contacted the manufacturers of the tests to try to get more information, he said.
The sheriff, meanwhile, said his office would reimburse Hernandez for the food.
“We’re going to cut him a check for his food because we kept his food to further test it,” he said.
But Hernandez, in a message given through a translator, said the $400 would not cover other expenses, such as the impound fee for his truck, his tires that were flattened by police stop sticks or clothes in the truck ruined by the rotting food.
“It’s not enough. That doesn’t pay economically for what I lost. That doesn’t pay for my tires,” he said.
The sheriff said he would not reimburse those things because Hernandez was found guilty of failing to yield to police lights and sirens. Hernandez had difficulty getting his truck, Duncan said, because it was registered under another owner.
When deputies looked at the food, Duncan said, shrimp in a cooler was already rotting — something Hernandez denies.
Hernandez said he had been driving three days to see his sister when he realized he had failed to take Interstate 81 to Johnson City and ended up in Asheville. He stopped his truck in a travel lane of I-240 in the early morning with hazard lights on after he thought he saw steam coming from it.
Hernandez said he thought a deputy who approached wanted him to move, so he drove off slowly with this flashers still on. But the deputy said he was trying to stop him and followed with his lights and siren on. Patrol cars blocked his way ahead and put down stop sticks. Hernandez said he wasn’t given a chance to speak and was taken roughly from the car. Deputies said he didn’t respond to verbal commands.
His truck was impounded and his dog taken away. Since that time, he has been able to get back his truck and dog.
Despite allegations from local Latino advocates, Duncan denied that Hernandez’s ethnicity had anything to do with his arrest.
Cheese led to false cocaine charge in Asheville, sheriff says
An enzyme in cheese may have caused false drug test results that led to the jailing of a California man.