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Police chief, DA clash over why so many cases being dismissed
Saturday, 01 January 2022 14:06

From Staff Reports

Asheville Police Chief David Zack and Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams — during a recent join appearance on an Asheville radio station — wrangled over a recent memo that Zack sent to Williams regarding the large number of criminal behavior cases being dismissed in the county’s courts.

The two officials appeared together on News Radio 570 WWNC on Dec. 16 to discuss the Zack’s memo in which he asked about the large number of cases being dismissed.

“During the past several fiscal years, the district attorney’s office dismissed nearly every charged case involving criminal behavior routinely complained about by downtown businesses and residents,” Zack wrote in a letter dated Dec. 1. (The letter appears on Page B7 of this edition.)

Similar percentages of case dismissals were included in the two previous fiscal year cycles of crime data dating to 2018.

“I am writing to give you notice of information I plan to share during our meeting with downtown business-owners,” Zack said in his letter to Williams. “To date, I have received no notice from you, any judge, any attorney employed by your office, or any other judicial officer that APD personnel are making inappropriate arrests, bringing charges with insufficient evidence, or failing to show up for scheduled court appearances.”

“Moving forward, I believe it would be beneficial for our respective agencies to meet on a weekly basis to discuss cases dismissed during the preceding week,” Zack wrote. “The last thing I want to do is to create an additional obligation for your staff or mine. However, given the effort APD officers and detectives expend on each and every arrest, it is worth the time.”

Asheville television station WLOS (News 13) noted, “On the radio on Dec. 16, Zack said that memo and the data it includes requires more context, and it was just part of a larger conversation the two men had been having.”

“He said he had been receiving inquiries about what officers were doing downtown and what enforcement efforts there looked like. 

“The chief said there is a large misconception that officers are not making arrests due to staffing shortages. He said although his officers are not making as many arrests as in previous years due to staffing levels, enforcement efforts are still certainly taking place.

“He said he wanted to see where those arrests went once they entered the court system, and that’s how he came across the case dismissal data. He said he and the DA have had many cordial and professional conversations regarding this topic,” News 13 noted.

Zack said on the radio broadcast, “Dismissals are common — there’s a number of reasons, and I think Todd will get into that in a little bit, why cases get dismissed and we knew the numbers we were looking at weren’t necessarily painting the total picture.”

Conversely, DA Williams contended that “many of the dismissed charges referenced in the memo are Class 3 misdemeanors that may not directly impact public safety,” News 13 stated. “He also said the person has to show up in court in order for them to prosecute.”

Williams said on the radio broadcast, “So after six months or so, we dismiss the case with leave, which tells the court clerk to transfer those pending cases to the backburner if you will, and it sits there until the person comes back into the system, maybe on new charges.”

Williams later added, “The criminal punishment options in these cases are very, very limited. We’re talking about fining homeless people or putting them in jail for $140 a day for 3 or 4 days, for a short term. I mean, what do we hope to remediate or address?”

News 13’s report noted, “Zack also said on Dec. 16 that the memo to the DA was intended to be private, and he believes someone within his department may have shared it.

“As far as concerns from business-owners about safety downtown, the DA said APD needs more manpower to staff downtown better. Zack said they’re continuously working to bolster their numbers.

“The DA added, the police department can only do so much when it comes to dealing with the same individuals disrupting businesses downtown. He said it will take efforts from other city and community leaders as well to address these issues.

“Both the DA and police chief noted, though, that gun violence in the city appears to be on the decline,” News 13 stated. 

Zack said the number of shots fired calls to which the APD responds “are down roughly 18 percent. He said Asheville is also looking at an approximate 30 percent drop in victims struck by gunfire,” News 13 repored.



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