Buncombe County – The Tribune has filed a formal complaint with Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller over misinformation distributed by the Sheriff’s Public Information Director Aaron Sarver.
“The Tribune is filing a formal complaint with your office for misinformation given to us by Aaron Sarver, Public Affairs Director. It is with deep regret [that] we must do this, but the loss of confidence in the information now distributed on behalf of your office must be addressed,” the complaint starts.
The Tribune‘s complaint comes as a result of information Sarver provided related to an incident on December 31, 2022, at the Buncombe County Detention Center and a CAD report we requested. Sarver disputed a report Skyline News posted on Facebook about a demonstration where protesters blocked the entrance to the Buncombe County Detention Center to the point [where] arrestees could not be taken into the facility by law enforcement officers.
The Tribune asked Sarver several questions in an email, including:
Did these activists block any entrances to the jail?
Did these activists block any roads with their bicycles?
Were any arrests ever made?
Were law enforcement told to stand down?
Any other information you might have about this event.
We received the following reply from Sarver in a group email:
“Hi, Mr. Parker, Mr. Nesbitt, and Mrs. Hutchins,”I hope each of you are [sic] is having a good new year so far!”You each have emailed similar questions about jail operations on New Year’s Eve, so I am responding jointly.”Jail operations were normal on 12/31/2022, with the exception of a higher number of bookings than a normal [sic] that day, due to it being a Saturday and New Year’s Eve. The claim that the entrance to the jail was blocked by protestors is misinformation. “The photo that Mr. Nesbitt posted on his Facebook page is also misinformation. I have attached the original photo to this email. Mr. Nesbitt, I wanted to make [you] aware you may be in violation of copyright laws by using a licensed image in this manner. At [a] minimum, you are intentionally misinforming community members. Mr. Parker, with his journalist [sic] journalistic background, may be able to better inform you as to [the] proper use of copyrighted images.”Additional comments on the Facebook post from multiple stakeholders, including bail bondsmen and others who were working on NYE, attest to the normal operation of the jail with people being arrested and processed without incident.”
The Tribune followed up with a request for the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) report and was provided a call log. Upon receipt of this, we asked Sarver for the specific call on the CAD report request and received from Sarver, “That information is not [a] public record per North Carolina G.S. 132-1.4A.”
CAD report tells what happened
However, we obtained the CAD report from the Asheville Police Department. According to the event notes addendum, the first mention over law enforcement radios came at about 8:35 p.m. with the announcement that about “125+ subjects were blocking all entrances to the jail and magistrate’s office.” Six seconds later, the “event spawned for NCSD event ID number (2022343035).” Two minutes later, the highway patrol was made aware of the event. At 8:39 pm a call went out saying the “crowd coming back to sally port” [where arrestees are taken in to be processed]. A minute later a report that “95% of crowd has face covering” and “there is a push cart with a generator on it with loudspeakers.” The report also said that “subjects still in the roadway block multiple avenues” and that other law enforcement agencies were made aware of the situation, including Weaverville, Black Mountain, Woodfin, and Montreat. All units cleared the area at 8:57 p.m., with an all-clear going out at 9:23 p.m. with more than 15 law enforcement [officers] on the scene. While the entire event lasted less than an hour, there is concern over Sarver’s statement that “jail operations were normal on 12/31/2022,” furthermore saying:
“The claim that the entrance to the jail was blocked by protestors is misinformation. Skyline News was also engaged in ‘misinformation’ leading the Tribune to file a complaint with Miller.”
“When the official mouthpiece for the highest law enforcement official in the county tells you something that is blatantly not true and then will not respond to questions about his falsehoods, everyone in the county should be concerned,” said David Morgan, publisher of the Tribune.
Only silence from the sheriff and his department
Follow-up emails with the CAD report and calls to Sarver asking if he “still maintains nothing unusual happened on December 31st at the detention center” have gone unanswered. We also asked Sarver additional questions about his statement, including:
If [he did not maintain that position], how would you explain your first response?
If so, how do you maintain that position?
We also ask if he “still maintains that Skyline News was distributing ‘misinformation’?
And if he “still maintains that this CAD report (attached) is not [a] public record?
Again, Sarver, as of this report, has not responded, even after two insistent attempts by email and a phone call.
The Tribune concluded the complaint to Miller by saying, “We are now asking you, as sheriff, to respond to this situation since Mr. Sarver is unwilling to do so. Consider this a formal complaint against Mr. Sarver and his failure to clarify his statement to the news media. We ask you to restore the trust we had in press releases and information coming from your office for the good of the media, our readers, and the citizens of Buncombe County.”
The Tribune plans to on taking the matter to the state if we cannot get a resolution from Sheriff Miller.
Full Disclosure: Nesbitt used to be a reporter for the Tribune Papers before starting his own news outlet.