By Roger McCredie- “It’s ongoing.”
That’s the City of Ashevile’s official response to inquiries about the status of Asheville Police Department’s internal investigation into the actions of a veteran officer who arrested a man who was stabbed during a downtown fracas, but did not arrest the man who stabbed him.
It’s also the same answer the city gave to the same question in mid-December, 2013, some two weeks after the incident occurred. Meanwhile, the alleged stabber is free and the stabbee is still awaiting his day in court.
It was shortly before midnight last Nov. 30 – the Saturday after Thanksgiving – that APD Sgt. J. S. Riddle was called to the scene of a fight outside Pack’s Tavern, located on Pack Square, literally feet away from police headquarters. According to reports, Riddle broke up a fight between Michael Del Buono, 44, of Arden and Mark Durner, 41, whose address was listed as Fletcher.
Del Buono was found to have a stab wound in his leg and Riddle asked him if he wanted to press charges. Del Buono asked about the proper procedure for filing charges against a law officer.
According to Del Buono, Riddle asked, “He [Durner] is an officer?” Del Buono indicated Durner had imparted this piece of information during the course of the fight. Del Buono has stated Riddle then took Durner aside and confirmed that Durner was in fact a “reserve” sheriff’s deputy, whereupon, Del Buono maintains, the situation turned completely around: Riddle told Durner he was free to go, hauled Del Buono next door to the police station – wounded leg and all — and charged him with being intoxicated and disruptive, a misdemeanor. Once charged, Del Buono, who was found to be bleeding copiously in the magistrate’s office, was allowed to take himself to Mission Hospital for treatment. The wound required three stitches to close.
In an interview with the Asheville Citizen-Times, Del Buono stated he and his stepson had been having a nightcap at Pack’s Tavern when a man he identified as Durner 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 man to leave the woman alone. The man threatened Del Buono’s stepson. Del Buono stood up and intervened. Del Buono said Durner shoved him and he responded by hitting Durner on the jaw. At that point, Pack’s Tavern personnel forced Durner to leave. Del Buono and his stepson finished their drinks and left Pack’s about 25 minutes later. As they made their way to their car, Del Buono said, Durner, who had apparently been waiting outside, accosted them and the fight broke out again, culminating in Del Buono’s being stabbed.
The Citizen-Times did not identify Durner by name in its story – which did not appear until Dec. 11 –on grounds that he was not charged in the incident. Later the same day, however, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department issued a statement identifying Durner and saying that it had revoked his reserve deputy credentials. In an update the Citizen-Times reported the revocation but still declined to mention Durner by name, although the Sheriff’s statement to the media did so, thus making Durner’s identity a matter of record.
In the meantime, Del Buono filed a formal complaint against Riddle and his handling of the case. The lodging of such a complaint automatically generates an internal police investigation and APD acknowledged that an official inquiry into Del Buono’s complaint had been launched.
On December 13 the Tribune contacted city communications officer Dawa Hitch, who said that the investigation into Riddle’s conduct was “ongoing.” On Thursday (January 16) the Tribune recontacted Hitch for an update. “It [the investigation] is ongoing,” she said.
The Tribune then turned to Sgt. Jonathan Brown of APD’s professional standards unit, who had originally confirmed that there was an internal investigation underway. Brown referred questions to Sgt. Dave Romick, the APD’s public information officer. Several voicemail messages to Romick regarding the investigation had not been returned at press time.
Del Buono was originally scheduled to appear in court January 9 to answer the intoxicated-and-disruptive charge Riddle filed against him; however, his case has now been continued until February 27. By that time it will have been almost exactly three months since the scuffle outside Pack’s Tavern took place. No action has been taken against Durner other than the revoking of his reserve deputy credentials. Riddle, though nominally under investigation, is going about his regular duties. And a local criminal defense attorney, who is not connected with the case but spoke on condition of anonymity, said the present situation is not likely to change in the near future.
[Del Buono’s court case] “will probably just keep getting continued,” the attorney said. “It might be sometime this summer before it ever gets heard.” This puts Del Buono in a catch-22 situation if he should decide to take any legal action of his own.
“He would pretty much need to get the criminal charges against him dropped or be acquitted of them before bringing any litigation of his own,” the attorney said.