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Absher aims to ‘regain momentum’ at Only Hope

Michael Absher speaks to reporters outside the courtroom after his acquittal on charges that he gave alcohol to teenagers at Only Hope WNC. Michael Absher speaks to reporters outside the courtroom after his acquittal on charges that he gave alcohol to teenagers at Only Hope WNC.

Acquitted on charges that he gave alcohol to teenagers at his shelter for homeless teenaged boys, Michael Absher said he hopes to rebuild Only Hope WNC and focus more on his School Board job.

 

“The biggest thing is just moving forward with helping homeless youth in our area and trying to figure out how we can regain momentum back with everything,” he said Monday. “That’s my main project, moving forward (at Only Hope) and becoming more active with the school system.”
Buncombe County District Court Judge Patricia Young pronounced Absher not guilty on Friday afternoon immediately after defense attorney Doug Pearson and prosecutor Jeremy Ingle finished their closing arguments.
Charged with two misdemeanor counts — aiding and abetting the possession of alcohol by a minor and contributing to the delinquency of a minor — Absher faced a consequence far greater than the penalties of jail and fines, Pearson said. If the trial had brought an extraordinary level of lawyering, evidence and maneuvering it was because it “had the most serious implications of a murder case because of what he has done with his life.”
Pearson, a former assistant district attorney, depicted Absher as a Horatio Alger figure, rising above homelessness and abuse to rally support for, establish and operate a safe harbor for homeless teenagers. He won local praise and national recognition for his work.


‘I lost a lot during this case’

“I feel great,” Absher said moments after the verdict, speaking to reporters from three news organizations that had provided wall-to-wall coverage of the bench trial. “It still disturbs me that youth would make those accusations. But we had to let the court do their job. I denied it several times and I still deny it today. I did not give these youth alcohol, I did not let them consume it. I would never do anything to jeopardize everything I’ve worked for eight years.”
“I lost a lot during this case,” he added. “I lost my apartment, I lost my property management job but I didn’t want to lose everything else. Multiple School Board members wanted me to resign and I refused. It’s going to be interesting to see what they say now.”
Aside from what he said was — and always has been — an unpaid job as the president of Only Hope and operator of the shelter, Absher works as a swing manager at McDonalds. He said he hoped the acquittal would restore the public’s trust in Only Hope.
“I would never put any youth in jeopardy,” he said. “I would never jeopardize anything that I’ve worked for, I would never sacrifice any of my homeless youth initiatives that I’ve done across the region and the nation. I believe in every child. I believe every child has the right to have a home. I thank God for having the opportunity to learn from this.”
He thanked Only Hope board members and donors and “multiple elected officials” who have stood by him. One elected official, attorney Michael Edney, the chairman of the county Board of Commissioners, was in the courtroom for the verdict. Absher also thanked Pearson, who put on an aggressive defense.
“He did more work on this case than a capital murder trial,” he said.
Pearson took a chance and put his client on the stand. Absher took several shots from prosecutor Jeremy Ingle but managed to parry Ingle’s questions based on Absher’s statements to investigators four days after the state’s leading witness made the charges. The witness, a 15-year-old who was removed from the home on April 1, testified that Absher bought him and two other boys three bottles of liquor on Dec. 16, 2016, and allowed them to drink it in the house.

School Board ‘should apologize’

Absher ignored a School Board vote last July calling on him to resign.
“I think the ones that said negative things should apologize but that’s wishful thinking. I think they should apologize for putting Bo in that particular spot … them having him try to ask me to resign.”
He also said it was improper for Buncombe County administrator to release the reason for Absher’s termination as a school bus driver.
“I’m waiting to figure out how I’m taking care of that,” he said, adding that he had been too occupied with the criminal trial to pursue it.

School Board Chair Amy Lynn Holt said she had no regrets about the School Board vote.
“I respect what the court came to a decision on” in the Only Hope matter, she said. “However, we were not asking for his resignation due to his court case because of Only Hope. We were asking for his resignation due to the fact that he was let go from Buncombe County for unsafe school bus movement, cursing at students and being on his phone while driving and also because of his threatening to assault a teacher.”
Prosecutors announced on Jan. 12 that they had dismissed the complaint, made by a teacher at East Henderson High School.
“It may have gotten dropped but he still threatened to assault a teacher and he told me that he did and he told several other people he did,” Holt said. “The charge may have been dropped it but he still did it. When people have been accused of something in court there is always a judicial process and we have to respect that but that has no bearing on why we asked for his resignation. I still think he should resign.”
As for Absher’s assertion that his personnel record was improperly released, Holt said that’s untrue.
“They never released his personnel file,” she said of Buncombe school administrators. “They stated the reasons why they let an employee go, which is legal. It’s the public’s right to know. When we let an employee go, it’s the public’s right to know why we let the employee go. That’s not going to go anywhere. It’s legal for them to do that.”
Absher said Friday he had not received a bill from Pearson for weeks of preparation and the 2½-day trial.
“I actually don’t know yet but I can ensure the public that my defense cost did not come from Only Hope,” he said. As a professional working with youth, he has insurance that covers the cost of his defense if he is accused of wrongdoing in the course of his work.
“Let’s not attack the youth for making that accusations,” he said when asked about the boy who made the charges against him. “That youth is very troubled. He does need some help. I still would support any kind of help that we as an organization could possibly do. Some are not stable and they have issues. I will never give up on any of these youth.”