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New sheriff jousts with CIBO critics on ICE issue
Monday, 02 September 2019 17:47
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Recently elected Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller fielded intense questions from some local business leaders on his decision for his office not to hold detainees — suspected of being illegal immigrants — upon request from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (aka “ICE) during the Aug. 2 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center. 

Miller told the CIBO audience that he will hold detainees in cases where ICE provides a warrant, but, otherwise, the sheriff said he felt it is a violant of the 4rh Amendment to hold a suspect without a warrant.

About 60 people attended the meeting that was opened by CIBO President Buzzy Cannady III, who serves as emcee. He began the session by recognizing elected officials in attendance, including Miller, Asheville City Councilman V.J. Kapoor, Asheville Housing Authority Executive Director David Nash, Buncombe Commissioner Amanda Edwards, Buncombe District AttorneyTodd Williams and Black Mountain Town Alderman Larry Anderson.

Cannady then said Miller would be giving “a progress report on the Sheriff’s Department....”

Miller triggered some chuckles — and a smile from CIBO’s emcee —  when he began his presentation by pointedly correcting Cannady’s introduction of his unit, noting evenly, “I’m going to begin by saying that, instead of ‘Sheriff’s Department,’ it’s ‘Sheriff’s Office.’”

He then told of the Sheriff’s Office’s “efforts to lower the numbers of people who are incacerated” and that it has “added more detention officers and officers on patrol.”

Miller added, “We hired a new grant-writer. So we will be after any grants out there…. We’ll be after any money out there — and improving services.”

What’s more, the sherrif said, “We also have a new law library... We also improved our secondary officer pay from $30 to $40 to an hour.”

After a pause, he added, “We’re now where everyone else (in sheriff’s units around the state) has been for quite some time....

“That’s pretty much it,” Miller concluded. “Any questions? 

CIBO member Mac Swicegood began the question-and-ansswer session by asking about what he termed Miller’s “nonsupport of ICE.” 

(ICE, an acronym for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, “is a federal law enforcement agency under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, principally responsible for immigration enforcement, with additional responsibilities in countering transnational crime,” according to Wikipedia.)

In an apparent verbal jab at Swicegood, Miller replied, “Part of my business is asking everyone if they’d like to have an honest conversation.

“If I’m already breaking the law, why do I want a new law? I’m telling you that’s already false.”

He added, “ICE is now saying (to the sheriffs) to come in and hold them (detainees wanted by ICE). I’m saying if they produce a legal document (a warrant), I’ll hold them. I’m challenging that as a violation of the 4th Amendment....

“So in addition to that, we have to also understand, prior to Dec. 3, they had (a number of) newly elected sheriffs (in North Carolina)... Seven African-American sheriffs were elected in some of North Carolina’s largest counties (including Buncombe). I’d ask: Why now” has the issue arisen?

To that end, Miller asserted, “When you started messing with the rights and powers of a sheriff, you (the sheriff) need to defend it at all costs. If they ‘do’ one, they’ll ‘do’ another. Soon the sheriffs won’t have any power.

“I’m not against the rights of sheriffs to make that decision on their own. I just want each sheriff to have that right.” For instance, he said, “I’m good friends of the sheriff” (Lowell Griffin ) of adjoining Henderson County, even though Griffin fully cooperates with ICE.

CIBO member Mark Delk, who is an Asheville attorney, asked, “How do these ICE things relate to the doctrine of habeus corpus?”

Miller answered at length, noting among his points that, “if you have someone in detention, you have the right to know where they are. Currently, that’s not happening. It’s too much like kidnapping.”

Delk then asked, “I’m trying to understand you’ve got someone in your jail, who’s committed… Why can’t you call ICE to notify them that they’re there?”

“ICE would be notified” in such a scenario, Miller replied. “I’m not against holding them” for ICE.

Persisting, Delk asked the sheriff, “You (say you) want to have ‘an honest conversation.’ Your assertion is that you don’t want to arrest someone without a warrant... You can (legally) detain someone for a little while without a warrant. That’s not to say that later on he (the detainee) can’t use the habeas corpus. But that’s not quite accurate ….”

“So I’m saying (it is) the same thing as the detainer. So an ICE agent writes up the request, the detainer.....”

Also, Delk said he disagreed with the sheriff’s assertion about ICE’s requests being illegal. He said that, legally, “You can hold that client with reasonable suspicion....”

Miller interjected, “But they (detainees) have the right to due process....”


In response to Miller’s assertion, Delk said‚ “I think that’s a given… My understanding is you’re not even doing that (giving them due process). The magistrate sets the bond, you open the door and let them go.” 

The attorney added, “The standard that you’re articulating right now is, ‘My office will not even detain them for a 48-hour period so that your (ICE) officers can arrest them…’ 

However, Delk said, “Some of these people need” to be detained. “You are not even holding them for a 48-hour period.”

“No, sir, I’m not,” the sheriff asserted.

At that point, with the tensions rising, Cannady, the emcee, intervened, saying he needed to end the discussion to give time for the meeting’s other presentations. He then called on Vapoor, the Asheville councilman, to give his presentation.

Vapoor began by noting, “So currently, right now, our elections for City Council are supposed to be (from) districts, other than the mayor (who will continue to be) elected at-large.

“The question is under what structure will will be hold City Council elections... One of those options is to file a lawsuit. The other option is to change our charter.”

However, Vapoor said he has researched the matter extensively and come up with another alternative — “We may want to restructure how we hold City Council elections...

“You should also know, as a council, legally speaking to change our charter, its got to be in place 90 days before our election.

“Currently, there is not a primary for council elections. I’m in favor of reinstating a primary. I think it’s a smart way to go... Our primary would have to occur in October,” if Asheville had one.

Vapoor added, “I’ve sort of changed my position. I’ve come out in favor of a district system —  to retain our district maps, but to add two more at-large council seats, for a total of nine seats.

“I think we, as a council, should do something, so that we don’t let the law — as it is — stand.

“Right now, under a total at-large system, we don’t have the accountability on crime issues. One of the situations is on crime. I get a lot of emails every day — about crime, about roads, about bears….

“I’m looking at this and say, for goodness sakes, … if we had districts, I have no doubt that district representative would be on that. Right now, we don’t have that on council. Given that all of us are responsible, in effect, none of us are responsbile.

“On the flip side, I’m worried about Balkanism. It’s a realistic concern. Facebook has a big impact on what we do as a council. I hate to say it, but it’s the reality.

(“Balkanism” is defined by as “to divide (groups, areas, etc.) into contending and usually ineffectual factions.”)

“We have concerns about different parts of the city fighting against each other,” Vapoor said in referring to council.

“I’m hopeful that might be a a compromise.... I raised that with Mr. (state Sen. Chuck) Edwards (R-Hendersonville) to think about it. I’m not sure there’s majority support on council,” he added.

Then, speaking more generally, Vapoor said, “What I appreciate about CIBO — y’all come to our (council) meetings. I appreciate that. We don’t hear that much from the business community. We often hear from the same people over and over. I respect them, but they punch way above their weight class.

“I’m a small business-owner (too) and I know what it’s like to have to make payroll out of my savings.

“I encourage you (CIBO members) to come to our meetings and express yourself. I understand that people worry that they might have their faces taken off. It’s hard. But unless we’re serious about where we want to be as a city, we’ve got to step up to do it.”

“It’s critically important… for us to hear from the business community and neighborhood groups — and not just the same voices over and over,” Vapoor said.

Continuing on the report of the city issues, Vapoor noted, “Finally, our new police chief (Chris Bailey of Indianapolis) began Friday(July 26). He will have a big impact.”

Vapoor concluded his council update by noting that the city is addressing the issue “of a possible moratorium on hotels. So I think the goal here. at least on hotels, ‘Let’s pause here for a minute, to figure out some criteria that we can have to figure out.’”

During the Q&A that followed, Swicegood asserted, “With all due respect, the reason we wanted to have district elections is because council wouldn’t listen” to the views of CIBO and others.

“Now the reason we have the problem on hotels” is because of council’s failure to listen to its constituents, he said.

In addressing Vapoor, Swicegood then concluded, “So it’s on your watch that you get it turned around.”

“Right,” Vapoor replied. “I’m trying to work out a compromise between council and Raleigh (the state General Assembly). Raleigh could go around in circles with us.

“My point is to come up with a compromise that would work... A lot of the issue about the resolution was about Raleigh.. I think it’s important that we find something that works. Staring a war with the General Assembly isn’t going to accomplish anything.”

An unidentified man asked Vapoor “to say who elects City Council?”

“There is data that shows who votes,” Vapoor replied. “Previously, typically the same people vote over and over. A lot of them live in North Asheville. A fair number live in central Asheville. There’s sort of a core in South Asheville, but not a lot (there)... What I’m thinking, they generally tend to be more Democrat. Because there’s such population growth in South Asheville. As South Asheville gets organized, be careful what you wish for. Therre’s increased population over there and they may end up swinging a lot of those at-large seats. It should be very interesting to see what they do.”

A man then asked Vapoor, “How can we construct a chartrer amendment without it being changed by the state?”

“We introduce a charter amendment, take a vote,” Vapoor replied. “The reality is, we would wait till the Assembly is out of session. If we change our charter, it will not be allowed to be changed again till after the election occurs. But the reality is, when the General Asssembly comes back in (session), they can change it” back to how it was. “So what good is it to start a war with them... If we win against them, is that really a win?”


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