Asheville not handling protests correctly or supporting its officers, police group says

Asheville not handling protests correctly, or supporting its officers, police group says
A crowd is beginning to gather near Asheville Police Department just minutes before Tuesday's 8 p.m. curfew starts. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

The largest group representing law enforcement in North Carolina has issued a statement saying the city of Asheville is not handling recent protests properly.

The Southern States Police Benevolent Association said officers on the front lines are not getting proper support from officials, especially in one high-profile incident.

There have been heated confrontations and rocks, bottles and concussive fireworks thrown by some protesters during several nights of demonstration downtown. The confrontations were followed by volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets from behind police lines.

But it's what happened Tuesday along Patton Avenue that's grabbed worldwide attention. A group of police officers cut water bottles open and dumped them on the ground. The officers also knocked over a table and scattered supplies on the ground in a alleyway.

It all happened just after the city's 8 p.m. curfew.

"The mayor started this narrative of this being a medical tent and that's a drastic misrepresentation," said Brandon McGaha, North Carolina staff representative at Southern States Police Benevolent Association.

In a press release, the police association claims Mayor Esther Manheimer had been briefed on what had happened to the medic tent and that she told the officers they were doing a good job. Then, a day later, the release says she condemned those officers publicly for their actions.

McGaha said officers who were there told him the tent was simply a supply station to provide protesters with more of what they needed to throw at police.


Asheville Police Chief David Zack said he heard differently from a lieutenant who said she saw fear in the eyes of those staffing the tent.

"Officers approaching in helmets, gas masks and shields are intimidating, especially when they're yelling directions," Zack said. "For these actions, I am truly sorry. Some may find this message to be too little, too late, and that's fair."

McGaha said he and others in law enforcement are not pleased by what Zack and city leaders are saying or with the way things are being handled in these troubled times.

"He can feel the way he feels, it's a free country. The mayor can feel the way that she feels. But they are out of touch with what happened on that street. They are out of touch with the frontline police officers and what they're dealing with out there," McGaha said.