As the Tribune scrambled to meet its early Independence Day deadline, word was received that a State Bureau of Investigation had just cleared Buncombe County sheriff Van Duncan of any wrongful conduct in connection with an incident involving his 16-year-old son.
The announcement prompted the same Journalism 101 questions from several local media outlets: What investigation? When was it launched? By whom? Why?
Bare bones answers emerged June 28, when the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that Asheville police chief William Anderson had personally ordered the investigation into the sheriff’s handling of the incident.
According to the sheriff, his son had driven to a Patton Avenue restaurant to meet some friends when a man later identified as 34-year-old Larry Shelton forced his way into his son’s car and demanded to be driven to Hillcrest Apartments, a nearby housing project that has seen more than its share of criminal activity problems, mostly drug trafficking. Duncan said he received a panicky phone call from his son relating what had happened and stating that Shelton had gotten out of the car. The sheriff said he told his son to lock the car doors and drive home immediately. In an unmarked police car, Duncan then drove his son back to the apartments so that the area could be identified for police follow-up. At that point, the sheriff said, the suspect himself appeared, evidently looking for a ride, and actually flagged down the unmarked police car. Duncan identified himself and promptly arrested Shelton.
Next day, Duncan said, he was notified that his city counterpart had ordered the SBI probe after the prisoner, who had by now been charged with felonious restraint, complained that Duncan had choked him during the arrest. Security cameras at the apartment complex captured the entire incident and revealed that Duncan used no physical force in apprehending Shelton. Accordingly the investigation was dropped after review by the District Attorney.
As for the original incident … turns out it happened in mid-April, just a few weeks after the SBI began an investigation into a traffic accident involving police chief Anderson’s own son, Chad (see main story).
Sheriff Duncan said he was “surprised” by Anderson’s decision to involve the SBI, but added he “understood.”