RALEIGH, N.C. – At the request of Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson), today, the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services voted to issue a subpoena for Talmadge "Stoney" Blevins, agency director for Buncombe County Health and Human Services, after his agency reportedly told police to leave a 9-year-old girl in a hotel room with a stranger, meth, and more than 100 used needles back in March.
According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, the young girl was found in a car with three adults – including her father -- on Interstate 40. After searching the car officers found needles and drugs. After arresting the adults, the father told the Black Mountain police to take the girl back to a hotel room to stay with a man he met earlier that day. When police got to the hotel room, they found more drugs and 150 used needles, according to the Citizen Times. The officers then called Buncombe County DSS because they didn’t feel it was safe to leave the girl in the room.
DSS staff didn't respond to the scene and told the police to leave the girl with the man in the hotel room. Instead, officers took her to the police station and waited for a family member to pick her up the next day.
"When I found out about this situation, I was absolutely appalled and horrified. When this child needed help the most, she was let down. If it wasn't for the Black Mountain police, this young girl could have been left in an extremely dangerous situation," Sen. Edwards said. "It is unacceptable to have social services even suggest leaving a child in a hotel room with a stranger and drugs. Buncombe County DSS hasn’t been forthcoming with information about this situation. It needs to publicly answer questions, and the subpoena will allow us to get those answers."
The subpoena covers "all documents, reports, case files, notes, recordings, records or other written information" Buncombe DSS has related to the March incident (redacted to conceal personal information), and Mr. Blevins would be compelled to testify about how the county DSS responds to law enforcement inquiries involving juveniles, and the circumstances of the March incident. A copy of the subpoena can be found here.
Every Democrat present voted against the subpoena.
Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham), provided the clearest rationale as to why the Democrats would abdicate their legislative duty: "Are we going to subpoena one DSS director from one county and bring that individual in here next month, weeks before an election, what will we solve by bringing this one DSS director? … What're we going to fix between now and when a new legislature is seated in January, when we have time to delve into this?"
The incident that prompted the subpoena happened in March 2020. The legislature should not wait 10-plus months to get answers about why Buncombe County DSS failed this child.
The Democrats argued holding an oversight hearing about the March incident and the policies, procedures, and decision-making that went into it might reveal "confidential" information. An executive branch agency policies and procedures that led to this failure should not be subject to "confidentiality." The committee is not requesting any personally identifiable information, any family history, any medical history, or anything personal at all.
Mr. Blevins had previously agreed to speak to the committee without providing documents or answering questions. The committee determined that it could not provide adequate oversight without proper documentation and full answers, so it voted to issue a subpoena.