A man who authorities say detonated a potentially dangerous homemade explosive following a July 4 celebration in downtown Asheville will remain in jail indefinitely after a judge ruled Tuesday that prosecutors had presented enough evidence to warrant the charges against him.
Chioke Auden Fugate, 23, has been in the Buncombe County jail since July 11. Asheville Police say Fugate and Duncan Andrew Small, 30, threatened to blow up the remnants of the Vance Monument and detonated at least one explosive known as a quarter stick, an illegal device capable of serious injury.
Their attorneys say Fugate and Small were merely setting off fireworks, but prosecutors have described the men as a “danger to the community.” As Asheville Watchdog previously reported, both have criminal histories and a pattern of alarming behavior, including carrying weapons at public gatherings and making threats.
Fugate dressed in Nazi uniforms, posted videos of himself shooting automatic rifles and frequently went out in public armed, Asheville Watchdog found. Small threatened to spread his COVID-19 infection throughout a courthouse in Washington state if court personnel did not drop a speeding ticket.
In court Tuesday, police presented new details about the events of July 4.
The city set up a command center with police, firefighters and paramedics to monitor the large crowd attending the festivities that included live music and fireworks. Police received intelligence earlier in the week indicating there might be protests and “civil unrest,” said Asheville Police Lt. Ann Fowler, the watch commander that night.
Surveillance included a drone with a video camera flying overhead and police on the ground, including at least one officer working undercover. “We were watching what was going on,” Fowler said.
As fireworks exploded overhead, police saw one person spray painting the Vance Monument and others throwing “pop fireworks,” Fowler said. They arrested one man they said assaulted and choked an undercover female officer until she blacked out. That man, unaffiliated with Fugate and Small, remains in jail.
Following the fireworks, the crowd around the monument swelled from a couple dozen to around 100 people, Fowler said. “We were overwhelmed at that point,” she said.
Police also began receiving reports of a possible bomb. One woman reported a disturbing comment from Small, who told her to be careful because “they’re going to blow up the monument,” Fowler said.
Others called 911 to report Small removing items resembling a bomb from his Kia Forte, police have said.
Around 11 p.m., according to police, Small lit an explosive, described as a device made of cardboard, black powder and tape, and threw it at the monument. Fugate “threw fireworks and other incendiary devices at people,” court records say.
The police drone captured video of an explosion with a plume of smoke, and officers rushed to the monument, Fowler said. Under questioning, Fugate, who was wearing a beret and a “military-type jacket,” told Fowler, “I only threw a quarter stick, what’s the big deal?” Fowler said.
Police Capt. Joe Silberman, who heads up the department’s bomb squad, testified that police found fragments of a cardboard tube from one explosive that detonated and a tube from a second device that did not explode.
The explosion, Silberman said, scorched some grass. The devices were not large enough to destroy the monument, he said, but could have damaged it if properly placed and caused “very serious injury.”
Silberman described a quarter stick as dangerous and illegal. “It’s not a firecracker, and it’s not a commercial firework,” he said.
Fugate is charged with possessing a weapon of mass destruction, going armed to the terror of the public and malicious use of an explosive to damage property. He is being held on $50,000 secured bond.
Fugate’s lawyer, Michael Casterline, asked that he be released.
“I don’t know where they get that these were designed to be weapons,” Casterline said in court. “They apparently made a big bang and singed the grass a little. Were they bombs or fireworks? Were they made to damage or delight?”
Buncombe County District Court Judge Patricia K. Young ruled there was “ample evidence” to support the charges against Fugate, who was brought to court shackled at the hands and feet and wearing a rust-colored, jail-issued jumpsuit. Afterward, Casterline put his arm around Fugate’s shoulder, and a bailiff led Fugate back to jail.
Small, who faces the same charges as Fugate plus two additional charges, posted bond and is reported to be under house arrest at his parents’ home in Florida.
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Scott Carroll is a Report for America corps member.