Housed and unhoused community members gathered at Aston Park for five non-consecutive evenings during the week of Christmas to demand the City of Asheville allow a sanctuary camp for unsheltered individuals at the park. What started as a community art party culminated in nearly a week of demonstrations and six Christmas night arrests, including two journalists.
During several encounters with Asheville Police throughout the week, officers told participants that APD’s policy on encountering unhoused community members had changed and no longer contained the seven days’ notice requirement for clearing encampments. Information obtained as a result of public records requests reveals this to be untrue.
Police Said the Policy Changed.
Asheville Police Department’s policy on encounters with homeless individuals, which was adopted in April of 2014, states, “If individuals are located at the camp, responding officers will instruct them that they have seven (7) days to vacate the property. They will also provide them with resource cards outlining outreach assistance options.”
In a video provided to The Asheville Free Press, an APD officer directly contradicts this policy. The officer says, “I need everybody to pick up your stuff, and please get out of the park.”
“I’ve been hearing this shit for 20 years,” one of the campers interjects.
“The park is open until 10, though,” another participant says.
The APD officer responds, “Not for camping in tents...”
“We get seven days to clear, correct?” one of the campers asks.
“No, you do not get seven days,” the officer responds. “They did away with all that.”
Participants told us that various officers repeated this claim throughout the week, including Community Engagement Division Captian Mike Lamb. Police were aware that both housed and unhoused individuals intended to camp at the park. Police did not provide Campers with resource cards outlining outreach assistance options, even after being asked directly.
The Policy Had Not Changed.
The Asheville Free Press initially reached out to APD spokesperson Bill Davis and asked him to clarify the current version of the policy on Monday, December 20th. In an email response, Davis said, “The new update is being reviewed and should be completed and signed...this week, hopefully.” Davis suggested submitting a public records request for the updated policy on Wednesday, December 22nd.
We submitted a request on December 20th for the policy “as it existed on 12/19” and followed up with a request for the updated policy on December 22nd. As of publishing, we have not received the updated policy from APD. However, on December 29th, we received confirmation from the public records department that the policy adopted in 2014 is the most recent version. The new update has not been signed into effect yet, pending the chief’s return from holiday vacation.
Apologies for the delay in getting back with you. The updates to the policy are still under review but should be finalized next week when the chief returns to the office. We will provide you with a copy as soon as it is available. The most recent policy is the April 18, 2014 version you linked to in your previous email. Please let me know if you have any questions.
The extent of the updates remains unclear, as does the reason behind Asheville Police officers’ false claims that a new policy was in effect. If officers were repeating what they were told, this raises concerns about potential ‘shadow policies’ at APD that are not reflected in the publicly available policy information. If they weren’t repeating what they were told, this raises even more concerns about officers lying to the public.
APD spokespeople Bill Davis and Samantha Booth did not respond to our request for comment on this discrepancy within 24 hours.