Investigating officer alleges coverup in accident involving APD Chief’s son; speaks of ‘coercion,’ evidence tampering
The back story
At 2 a.m. on Saturday, March 13, the temperature in central Asheville was in the mid-20’s. There was no traffic on Montford Avenue; the old street was wrapped in the kind of cold silence that lets a dog’s bark carry for several blocks.
So at 2:28, when a white 2007 Pontiac came barreling erratically up the street and swerved onto a traffic island, taking out its upright directional sign, it made enough racket for a couple of residents to take notice. At least one witness claimed to have seen a man – just one – glance at the damage, which consisted mostly of a crumpled fender, and leave the scene. That was all. Police arrived awhile later, but by then Montfordians, having determined nothing major was going on, had turned over and gone back to sleep.
But by sunup that Saturday, events had already been set in motion that would eventually involve the Pontiac’s driver — a 22-year-old man whose father happened to be Asheville’s Chief of Police – several high-ranking police officers, a long-serving district attorney and the State Bureau of investigation in a tangle that by the end of the weekend was already being referred to as “Chadgate.”
The preliminary investigation confirmed that the car was registered to Asheville Police Chief William Anderson but was used by Chad Anderson as his own. The chief told the Asheville Citizen-Times early on that it appeared his son was not driving at the time of the accident. For his part, Anderson the younger claimed the car was being driven by a man known to him only as “Dianty,” who had fled and had not been heard from again. Chad Anderson indicated he knew of no way of contacting “Dianty” and in fact did not even know his last name.
Chief Anderson initially did not carry the investigation beyond his own department’s traffic division. District Attorney Ron Moore, who said he learned of the incident three days later when he read about it in the newspaper, ordered an SBI investigation. Among the SBI’s early findings was 40 caliber handgun, together with a quantity of ammunition and a clip, under the Pontiac’s seat. (APD did not mention the gun in its accident report. Sheriff’s Office records showed that Chad Anderson did not have a license to carry a concealed weapon, though he had applied for permission to carry a handgun.) The SBI also reported that electronic sensors indicated that only one person was in the car at the time it struck the median.
On March 15, Chief Anderson issued a statement apologizing for not having ordered an independent investigation of the case to begin with, saying he had allowed his concern as a parent to cloud his judgment as an administrator. On March 19 Chad Anderson resigned his job as a City of Asheville water maintenance worker trainee. Meanwhile, the city manager’s office announced it would launch an internal investigation into the entire handling of the matter. Then it said it would hold off until the SBI investigation was concluded. Then it said no, it was going ahead with its own investigation after all. And in the meantime, the Anderson family retained Sean Devereux, reckoned by many to be Asheville’s top criminal defense attorney, to represent Chad.
Fast forward to June
On June 4, Chad Anderson was served with warrants charging him with two misdemeanors – hit and run and reckless driving – as well as two felonies: obstruction and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The obstruction warrants stemmed from Chad’s claim that he was not driving, especially in light of his or anyone else’s inability to produce the elusive “Dianty.”
Two and a half weeks later, the other shoe dropped, or was thrown, and by a senior police official at that.
On June 25, Police Lt. William Wilke, a 13-year APD veteran, took the unusual step of calling a press conference on his own initiative at the office of his personal attorney, George Hyler. Wilke said, flatly and unequivocally, that a massive interdepartmental coverup was masking substantial facts about the Anderson situation. In a statement that sounded more like an indictment, Wilke, who had been the officer in charge of the initial wreck investigation on that cold March morning, said Chief Anderson and police Capt. Stoney Gonce attempted, both at the time and since, to “submit to a set of facts and circumstances regarding the accident involving [Chad Anderson] that were clearly false and misleading.” He also said that he had complained to both City Manager Gary Jackson and to Jackson’s assistant, Jess Richardson, that Chief Anderson had fed the media misinformation, but said that neither official had heeded him.
Wilke said he had furnished Gonce with “a thorough set of documents” detailing the wreck investigation. The next day, Wilkie said, Gonce fetched him from a meeting with the SBI investigation team, and escorted to Chief Anderson’s office where, he said, he “was coerced and expected to submit to a set of facts and circumstances regarding the accident involving his son that were clearly false and misleading. I refused to submit to this coercion,” Wilke said.
On June 7, Wilke said, he went to the evidence room where the documents he had presented to Gonce in March had been filed and found they had been tampered with. Conspicuously missing from the file was Gonce’s own original statement, which Wilke contends was the basis for much of the “false and misleading” information he says was furnished. Wilke said he reported this to Jackson’s office but received no acknowledgement (a point disputed by Jackson, who says he responded to Wilke immediately).
District Attorney Moore, who had previously said he was “troubled” that Anderson and Gonce had removed Wilke from his interview with the SBI in March, said immediately after Wilke’s news conference that he intended to recontact the SBI and have them re-interview the lieutenant. This announcement caused speculation in some quarters that Moore might be preparing to launch an SBI investigation into the police chief’s involvement, particularly as to possible obstruction of justice. Later, however, Moore recanted, saying he had determined that Wilke had nothing new to add to the information he had already given the SBI in March, and that he (Moore) was therefore content to let the existing investigation of Chad Anderson run its course and would therefore not be asking for a probe into William Anderson’s conduct. Moore’s demurral created a ripple of dissatisfaction among some observers; others were more philosophical.
One long-etablished Asheville attorney said, “You have to understand that the DA has broad discretionary powers in these matters.
“Very broad,” the lawyer said.
For his part, Wilke said he “has absolutely no intention” of resigning from APD.