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How a racist North Carolina sheriff won re-election

A six-and-a-half-minute phone call between two coworkers from the Columbus County Sheriff’s Department sparked a firestorm in an otherwise quiet, rural area this fall.

In February 2019, county sheriff Jody Greene denigrated his black employees in a phone call to Police Captain Jason Soles. He called them “black bastards” and said he would “clean them up” and that nobody could stop him – because he was “still the damn sheriff”.

The recorded call was leaked to a local TV station in September. Soles, a Democrat, ran against Greene this year.

The fallout resulted in Greene resigning from the state sheriff’s association, the district attorney seeking his impeachment, and Greene eventually resigning from his position — but he was still on that year’s ballot.

And while his recorded remarks sparked local outrage, his Republican compatriots supported him and he quickly won re-election to the office from which he had just resigned.

Greene defeated Soles with 54% of the vote, according to unofficial county results. Greene will be officially sworn in on December 5th. However, District Attorney Jon David said he would file another official court motion 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 law enforcement issues in North Carolina. In 2018, Greene defeated Lewis Hatcher for Columbus County Sheriff. Hatcher was one of the black law enforcement officers Greene referred to in the phone call during his racist tirade.

“Tomorrow will be a new damn day. I’m still the fucking sheriff… Screw them black bastards, they think I’m scared? You 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’ll cut off the snake’s damn head. Period… and Melvin Campbell is as big a snake as Lewis Hatcher ever dared. Every black man I know you have to fire first, he’s a snake!” Greene continued.

At least one black person was fired after the conversation.

A racist North Carolina sheriff was reelected despite a leaked footage of him using expletives in a diatribe about his black employees.
A racist North Carolina sheriff was reelected despite a leaked footage of him using expletives in a diatribe about his black employees.

Paul Souders via Getty Images

After the audio recording of the phone call was released, black sheriffs in the area began demanding answers.

Greene resigned from the sheriff’s association days after his comments surfaced, but remained in office for several more weeks before leaving his official post.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden knows Greene and has attended several professional meetings with him. He told HuffPost that Greene’s election wasn’t “fair” to either Columbus County or the other state sheriffs. He believes that the State Sheriff’s Association should take stronger action against Greene, but they probably didn’t because they were afraid. After all, he noted, they also campaigned.

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

Black sheriffs are the highest-paying members and preside over most of the state compared to their white counterparts. However, McFadden stated that they have the least power and influence over the decision-making and review process of the association’s members and rules.

“There is no diversity or inclusion in this organization. Black sheriffs don’t sit on any boards,” he added.

Despite his resignation, Greene was still on that year's ballot.  A voter fills out a ballot at a polling station November 8 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Despite his resignation, Greene was still on that year’s ballot. A voter fills out a ballot at a polling station November 8 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

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

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

At one point there were two black sheriffs among the 15 members of the executive committee. However, according to the club’s website, both died. No other black sheriff has served on the association’s executive committee since.

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

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

David’s file states that Greene and another detective had sex at his county-issued Dodge Durango, his office, and a shooting range. Many of their intimate relationships were formed while they were still on duty. The detective eventually became pregnant with his child before she eventually went to Wilmington to have an abortion, the filing says.

It also cited Greene, who filed criminal charges against a county commissioner after he voted against providing pay rises 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 is underway against the Department and Greene for obstruction of justice.

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