How a racist sheriff got re-elected in North Carolina

A six-and-a-half-minute phone conversation between two members of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Department created a firestorm this fall in an otherwise quiet rural area.

In February 2019, Jody Greene, the county sheriff, disparaged his black employees during a phone call with police captain Jason Soles. He called them “black bastards” and said he would “clean the house” of them, and no one could stop him – because he was “always the fucking sheriff”.

The taped call was leaked to a local television station in September. Soles, a Democrat, ended up running against Greene this year.

The fallout led to Greene resigning from the state sheriff’s association, the county attorney seeking his removal, and Greene eventually resigning from his position – but he was still on the ballot this year.

And while his taped remarks sparked local outrage, his fellow Republicans backed him up and he was soon re-elected to the post he had just resigned from.

Greene beat Soles with 54% of the vote, according to unofficial county results. Greene will be officially sworn in on December 5. However, County District Attorney Jon David said he will file another formal motion with the court and order Greene’s removal.

Greene was known to other law enforcement officials across the state, including many black sheriffs — and he eventually became a symbol of much deeper problems in North Carolina law enforcement. In 2018, Greene defeated Lewis Hatcher for Columbus County Sheriff. Hatcher was one of the black law enforcement officers Greene referenced in the phone call during his racist tirade.

“Tomorrow is going to be a new fucking day. I’m still the fuckin’ sheriff… Fuck them black bastards, they think I’m scared? They are stupid. I don’t know what else to do with it. So it’s time to clean them up,” Greene said in the recording.

“I won’t have it. I’m going to cut the fuckin’ head off the snake. Period…and Melvin Campbell is as big a snake as Lewis Hatcher ever dared to be. Every Black I know, you gotta fire him to begin with, he’s a snake!” Green continued.

At least one black person was fired as a result of the conversation.

A racist North Carolina sheriff has been re-elected despite a leaked recording of him swearing about his black employees.

Paul Souders via Getty Images

Once the audio recording of the phone call became public, black sheriffs in the area began demanding answers.

Greene resigned from the Sheriff’s Association days after his remarks surfaced, although he remained in office for a few more weeks before stepping down from his official position.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden knows Greene and has attended several business meetings with him. He told HuffPost that Greene’s election was “not fair” to Columbus County or other sheriffs in the state. He thinks the state sheriffs association should have taken stronger action against Greene, but they probably didn’t because they were scared. After all, he noted, they were also campaigning.

“What happened was the other sheriffs were nervous because they were all running for office,” McFadden told HuffPost.

Black sheriffs are the highest paid members and preside over the largest parts of the state compared to their white counterparts. Yet McFadden explained that they hold the least power and influence in the decision-making process and vetting of association membership and rules.

“There is no diversity or inclusion in this organization. Black sheriffs do not sit on any board of directors,” he added.

Despite resigning, Greene was still on the ballot that year. A voter fills out a ballot at a polling place November 8 in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

“No one said, ‘How can we move forward as an organization?’ They go to sheriffs who don’t look like me to get things done and change them. I think there should be more; there should be training. It should be more than he just quit,” McFadden said.

When all of the black sheriffs were first sworn in, McFadden said they were nicknamed the “Magnificent 8” because they took elected leadership of every major city in North Carolina in 2018.

At one point, there were two black sheriffs out of a total of 15 executive committee members. But they are both deceased, according to the association’s website. No other black sheriff has since become a member of the association’s executive committee.

David’s petition included several instances of Greene abusing his authority and intimidating his subordinates.

The filing cited an alleged sexual relationship between Greene and one of his detectives, which lasted for months and “interfered with the necessary and proper administration” of the sheriff’s office.

David’s file indicates that Greene and another detective had sex in his Dodge Durango, his office and a shooting range. Many of their intimate relationships took place while they were still on duty. The detective ended up getting pregnant with her child before traveling to Wilmington to have an abortion, the filing says.

He also cited Greene pursuing criminal charges against a county commissioner after he voted against granting pay raises and riot gear to the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office. Commissioner Giles Byrd said he believed it was an intimidation tactic against him after a judge dismissed his charges.

An investigation into the department and Greene for obstruction of justice is ongoing.


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