ASHEVILLE - A deputy who had been investigated by the SBI and who was part of a task force that did undercover drug operations has been fired - and a major trafficking case dismissed.
The fentanyl and methamphetamine trafficking case that had been heralded early this year by the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office was dismissed against Dennis Gates Miller "in the interest of justice," according to information from public case files obtained by the Citizen Times Sept. 23.
A main reason for the dismissal was the inability of the prosecutors to use one or more witnesses, the file said. That was because it was now known there were reasons to call into question the integrity of a witness, it said. The court documents on Miller included files sealed to the public by a judge.
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Scott Eugene Robinson, a 50-year-old executive lieutenant with the Buncombe County Anti-Crime Task Force, was fired Aug. 11, according to his personnel record obtained by the Citizen Times through a public records request. The record said the involuntary termination was for "discipline." Robinson, who was hired by the Sheriff's Office in 2014, was making $35.47 an hour.
Spokespersons for Sheriff Quentin Miller and the county government declined Sept. 23 to elaborate on the reasons for the disciplinary measure. County spokesperson Lillian Govus said the reasons for the firing were "protected personnel information," the release of which is a crime under state law.
Robinson could not be reached for comment. He had faced a State Bureau of Investigation excessive force probe after his involvement in a Feb. 17 arrest, an SBI spokesperson had said. SBI investigations are not public, and spokesperson Anjanette Grube declined to give more information.
Dennis Gates Miller was arrested along with others Feb. 17 "on gun and numerous drug charges," according to a Sheriff's Office news release at the time. The arrests were part of the dismantling of a large fentanyl and methamphetamine trafficking operation by the task force, the Sheriff's Office said.
After receiving the SBI report, Buncombe District Attorney Todd Williams did not call for charges. In making such decisions, Williams has said they are based on finding evidence of a prosecutable violation of state law.
Williams declined to comment Sept. 23. But the case file showed his office dismissed most charges brought against Miller during his February arrest, including four major trafficking charges.
"The state enters a voluntary dismissal in the interest of justice. Additionally, the state is entering a dismissal because the state is unable to call critical material witness(es) necessary to successfully prosecute this case per mandatory disclosures required by the North Carolina rules of professional conduct for lawyers," the DA's office said.
The filing cited the court case Giglio v. U.S. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court said prosecutors must tell the defense about any information that might call into question the integrity of a witness. Prosecutors sometimes issue so-called "Giglio letters" for law enforcement officers whose misdeeds make them unusable as witnesses in some or all cases.
Williams issued such a letter regarding former Asheville Police Department Officer Anthony Sorangelo after he was charged in 2020 with misdemeanor assault. A judge dismissed the charges, and Sorangelo is now suing Williams and APD Chief David Zack saying the letter hurt his career.
Once part of BCAT, Zack pulled the Asheville Police Department out of the task force in 2020.
Other attention for the task force came when member Jeff May was found in a federal civil trial to have fabricated drug evidence in order to get a warrant to strip search a man in 2018. May is still employed by the Sheriff's Office.
While the trafficking charges were dismissed, Dennis Gates Miller remains in the Buncombe jail for other alleged crimes, including felony possession of cocaine and numerous felony probation violation charges, according to the detention facility website. His bond is set at $625,000 the site says.
His attorney Ted Besen declined to comment.
Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess at firstname.lastname@example.org, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Drug task force deputy fired, case dismissed 'in interest of justice'