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Asheville Police Chief Apologizes After Officers Destroy Medical Tent

Image of Asheville police car
Flickr Creative Commons

The police chief in Asheville has apologized for the destruction of a medic station that was set up for people protesting police brutality and the death of George Floyd.

The Citizen-Times reported Thursday that the chief's apology followed pointed criticism from community leaders. It was also a dramatic departure from an earlier statement that apologized for the destruction but still defended it.

“I am speaking to you today to address a matter that has deeply affected our community, embarrassed our city and our department,” Asheville Police Chief David Zack said. “Of course I am referring to the destruction of a medic tent during protests on Tuesday, June 2. For these actions, I am truly sorry.”

An all-volunteer team of doctors and other medical staff had set up on Tuesday near an alley on Patton Avenue. Asheville police – sporting riot gear – surrounded the medic station, forced the voluntary medic team to leave and stabbed water bottles with knives and tipped over tables of medical supplies and food.

“We were obviously very shocked that they were physically pushing us out of the alleyway, telling us to leave, threatening with arrests and tear gas to all of our other medics who were just trying to get their things out and trying to get the medical supplies out,” Sean Miller, head of communications for the medical team, told BPR.

Miller says the group of volunteers includes doctors, EMT’s, wilderness first responders and individuals with CPR training who wanted to offer their services at the protests. Miller says she’ll continue this work as long as the protests continue, and in the future. She’s a sophomore at UNC Asheville, studying international human and environmental rights law.

"This is directly in line with what I intend to spend the rest of my life doing," Miller said. "We are living in a time and an age that requires us as human beings to be fighting for each other and helping each other as much as we’re physically able."

Zack initially responded in a statement Wednesday that the water bottles and equipment were destroyed because they could be used as weapons thrown at officers. In a separate statement issued the same day, Mayor Esther Manheimer called on police to offer further explanation of the officers’ actions to the city council. 

Zack then issued a forceful apology a few hours after the mayor publicly denounced the incident.

Protests in Asheville continued for a fifth straight night on Thursday, but the demonstration – featuring a vigil – was peaceful. At the urging of organizers, protesters left Pack Square in front of Asheville City Hall before the city’s 8 p.m. curfew went into effect. A historic marker in the square for Confederate General Robert E. Lee was covered by protesters with names of African Americans killed at the hands of law enforcement.

WUNC digital producer Mitchell Northam contributed to this report.

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Cass Herrington is BPR's Morning Edition host and news reporter. Her reporting largely focuses on stories dealing with health, race, and immigration.
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