City draws curtain over fight investigation

December 26, 2013 Asheville , News Stories 1635 Views
City draws curtain over fight investigation

 

Pack's Tavern from Police Department lRS

Assailant (former county deputy) still free; stabbing victim charged

(corrected version)

By Roger McCredie-Heard this one?  Guy walks out of a bar, gets ambushed, gets stabbed, then gets arrested.

No, there’s no punch line (no pun intended).  Not yet, anyway.  The stabbee has a court date, the stabber– although everybody but the general public knows who he is – is still at large, and the arresting officer is under investigation.

It happened this way:

Late in the evening of November 30, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Michael Del Buono, 45, and his 19-year-old stepson stopped in for a couple of drinks at Pack’s Tavern, an upscale bar and restaurant located at the southeast corner of Pack Square less than fifty feet from the front door of the Asheville Police Department.

Del Buono later provided the following narrative of what happened after he and his nephew entered the bar:

The two men were minding their own business when another man began trying to converse with a woman nearby, who made it clear that she did not reciprocate his interest.  Del Buono’s stepson asked the other man to leave the woman alone.  The man s threatened Del Buono’s stepson.  Del Buono stood up and intervened.  The man shoved Del Buono, who responded by hitting the man on the jaw.  At that point, Pack’s Tavern personnel forced the man to leave.  Del Buono and his stepson finished their drinks and left Pack’s about 25 minutes later.

As the two made their way to their car, according to Del Buono, the ejected patron, who had apparently been waiting for them, jumped Del Buono.  Del Buono defended himself, landing several punches, whereupon his assailant pulled a knife and stabbed Del Buono in the leg. At that point, APD Sgt. S. J. Riddle arrived, broke up the fight and asked Del Buono if he wanted to press charges.

Then comes the critical part of Del Buono’s account.  He said he asked Riddle how to go about bringing charges against a law enforcement officer.  (Apparently his assailant had identified himself as such during the melee.) At that point, according to Del Buono, the whole situation changed.

“He’s an officer?” Del Buono quoted Riddle as asking him.  Del Buono said Riddle conferred with the other man, then told him, “You’re free to go.”  Del Buono said he then told Riddle that, yes, he wanted to press charges.  Instead, he said, Riddle told him, “You’re not doing anything,” charged him with being drunk and disorderly, and brought him, wounded leg and all, into the police station for processing.

When night court staff noticed that Del Buono was bleeding copiously, he was allowed to depart for Mission Hospital, having been first given a court date of January 9. Del Buono’s wound required five stitches to close.

It was by now the early morning of December 1, but the story of the fight, the stabbing and Del Buono’s arrest lay dormant for another ten days.  Even then, such details as began to emerge were sketchy, except for Del Buono’s own story, which was recounted by Asheville Citizen-Times writer Sabian Warren in a story that appeared on the morning of December 11. Warren’s story quoted from Riddle’s’ incident and arrest report, which alleges that Del Buono was “cursing and yelling and refusing to leave” and was accordingly cited for “drunk and disorderly.”

The Citizen-Times story confirmed that Del Buono’s attacker, the man who had earlier been escorted out of Pack’s, was indeed an auxiliary sheriff’s deputy but said the paper declined to name the individual “because he has not been charged.”

The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department made no bones about the deputy’s identity.  Later the same day, it issued a statement identifying the man as Mark Durner and confirming that he had been an auxililary deputy, the operative phrase now being “had been.”  The statement, which was addressed to Warren and WLOS-TV’s Frank Fabroni, reads:

“The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office has completed its internal administrative investigation of reserve Deputy Mark Durner.  The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office is no longer holding Mr. Durner’s certification due to Mr. Durner committing a policy violation of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office.  The Asheville Police Department is the agency handling the criminal investigation involving this former reserve deputy.”

In an update, the Citizen-Times reported that the sheriff’s office had revoked Durner’s deputy credentials but still declined to name him, even in the context of the sheriff’s department’s statement, because he had not been charged by the city with a crime. (Basic journalism standards place no restrictions on the identification of non-minor participants in an incident, provided that statements about such parties are not false, or in reckless disregard for their truth or falsity.)

Apparently WLOS made no mention of the incident at all.

For his part, Del Buono filed complaints with both the city and county about Riddle’s handling of the incident and Durner’s assault.  It is not clear whether his complaint to the county resulted in Durner’s dismissal.  City police acknowledged that Del Buono’s complaint had resulted in a “criminal investigation” that “could be a professional matter, so we can’t comment on it.”

This seemed to indicate that Riddle as well as Durner might be under investigation, but that has not been confirmed.  In response to questions from the Tribune on December 12 – the day after the story broke and the sheriff’s department statement was released — city spokesperson Dawa Hitch said, “Mr. Del Buono did pick up a complaint form and meet with someone in the Office of Professional Standards.  As far as we know the charges are still pending.  I can say with certainty that the police department has initiated an internal investigation.”  Of the investigation itself, Ms. Hitch said only, “It is ongoing.”

In some quarters, APD’s whisking the incident behind the curtain of departmental confidentiality called to mind the handling, in March of this year, of the investigation of a traffic accident on Montford Avenue involving Chad Anderson, son of Asheville Police Chief William Anderson.  Chad Anderson claimed he was a passenger in a car driven by someone known to him only as “Dianty” when it struck a concrete median and traffic sign.  Anderson appeared to accept his son’s story.  The incident was all but closed when Lt. Bill Wilkie, who had supervised the initial investigation of the accident, came forward and said Chief Anderson and Capt. Stoney Gonce had attempted to coerce him into participating in a coverup of the matter. Chad Anderson later admitted to fabricating the “Dianty” story and was charged by a grand jury of obstructing and conspiring to obstruct justice.  In a dramatic front page editorial three months later, Randy Hammer, then publisher of the Citizen-Times, castigated both the internal handling of the Anderson investigation and city council’s “oddly incurious” attitude towards it.  (As an example, Hammer cited mayor (then councilwoman) Esther Manheimer’s response to a question regarding the police department’s actions.

“What actions?” Mainheimer was quoted as saying.

So far, no council member or city official has commented on what is now being called “the fight at the Pack Square corral,” the ten-day silence before release of any details, or the need for transparency and accountability that was part of some members’ recent election campaigns.

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