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Asheville police evidence room remains a mess

ASHEVILLE (AP) — Asheville police are still trying to sort through problems in the department’s evidence room.

The agency has spent $175,000 since the problems first came to light a year ago, sealing its current evidence room and opening another. Problems include up to 14 boxes of cash with no clear ties to cases, items on shelves with no tags and piles of evidence left on floors and in doorways, the Asheville-Citizen Times reports.

City leaders were stunned after seeing a report from a private company that inspected the sealed evidence room.

“I told my wife it kind of looked like my son’s dorm room,” Councilman Chris Pelly said.

BlueLine Systems only inspected about 75 percent of evidence room because it used up all of the $175,000 it was paid, said Mike Wright, director of the private firm.

The newspaper and other media outlets have sued to see the report under public records laws. The city also has refused to let the newspaper view 2011 visitor logs for the evidence room that would show who knew about the room’s condition. City spokeswoman Dawa Hitch said the State Bureau of Investigation is still investigating mishandling of evidence.

The problems started cropping up last year with a routine inspection of the evidence room. The inspectors couldn’t find 115 of 1,097 items, including 27 guns, 54 containers of drugs and 34 packets of money and valuables, according to the April 2011 report. Charges were dropped in a drug case because 397 prescription painkillers were missing from the evidence room.

Police Chief Bill Hogan resigned shortly after that report.

Buncombe County, which contains the city of Asheville, had its own evidence room problems a few years ago. Sheriff’s Lt. Randy Sorrells said they are watching what happens in Asheville carefully to see if they need to tweak any policies, which now include annual inventories on top of surprise inspections.

“It’s never going to come to light until two things happen,” Sorrells said. “You do a 100 percent inventory of the property room or it’s time for the case to come to trial and you have to produce the evidence.”

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