Buncombe sheriff says commissioners' call for use of force oversight a 'slap in the face'

Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan speaks with News 13 on April 3, 2018. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

Three commissioners are calling for more oversight in use of force complaints against all law enforcement agencies in the county, prompting the sheriff to call the announcement "a slap in the face."

Buncombe County Commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Alfred Whitesides, and Ellen Frost released a joint statement on Tuesday, noting their concerns about an August 2017 use-of-force case involving the Asheville Police Department (APD) and the "ensuing delay in the administration of justice."

"This is a crisis in our community on par with the opioid epidemic. It must therefore receive the same level of open dialogue, honest assessment, collaboration across agencies, and robust funding by the public bodies who are duty-bound to serve and protect our constituents," the statement said in part.

The three commissioners are calling on law enforcement agencies in the county to review their current use of force and de-escalation policies and to revise them with community input. The statement says any use of force, de-escalation, and implicit bias training would be funded by the county.

They also call for the formation of a Use of Force Response Team to handle use of force complaints and provide victim support. The commissioners also want to form a Human Rights Commission to investigate reports of "harassing, violent or discriminatory conduct" by public employees.

Sheriff Van Duncan said in a statement Tuesday that he was disheartened by the commissioners' joint statement.

"This sheriff’s office, by and large, enjoys the support of the community that it serves, has been an agency of best practices and been recognized nationally for its efforts in community policing practices, and this comes as a slap in the face," the sheriff said in part.

Sheriff Duncan accused some elected officials of using the incident between Johnnie Rush and APD to push an "anti-law enforcement agenda." He also said the commissioners didn't speak with the sheriff's office before releasing their statement.

"The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office will continue to provide the best service possible to the people of Buncombe County and will not own any of this statement that gives the impression that we do the contrary," the statement from Sheriff Duncan concluded.

These statements come on the heels of newly-released body camera footage of Johnnie Rush's jaywalking arrest by Asheville police in August 2017. The incident was brought to light in Feb. 2018 when bodycam footage was leaked to the media.

The leaked footage prompted public outcry and questions about why city leaders did not know about the incident before the video appeared in the news.

The City of Asheville later announced staffing changes in the wake of the video's release. Former APD officer Hickman was also later charged with assault in the incident.

See Sheriff Duncan's full interview below:

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