Jan 5, 2023 - News

North Carolina sheriff out for racist remarks — again

Sheriff Jody Greene

Columbus County sheriff Jody Greene. Photo: Columbus County

A recently re-elected North Carolina sheriff resigned for the second time in three months after coming under fire for racist comments he made about employees.

Catch up quick: Columbus County sheriff Jody Greene resigned in October after a recorded phone call became public in which he said of two employees, "I'm sick of these Black bastards..." and "Every Black that I know, you need to fire him..."

  • But Greene remained on the November ballot and won re-election.
  • Minutes after he was sworn in on Dec. 29, District Attorney Jon David filed a petition to have him removed again, and sought to permanently disqualify him this time.

Driving the news: Greene’s attorney announced his second resignation at the beginning of a hearing for that petition Wednesday, following months of political pressure, WECT first reported.

Why it matters: While larger police departments nationwide confront racial disparities in hiring and enforcement of laws, Greene's comments created a firestorm in a rural area where a single elected official — the sheriff — holds outsized power.

  • He was the top law official in a county that’s 30% Black and sits in the southeastern corner of the state, an often-forgotten region more than 100 miles from urban centers Raleigh and Charlotte.
  • “Let me be clear, while elections are a popularity contest, constitutional rights belong to everyone, including the disenfranchised, including the people that do not have political power in the community," David said in a press conference Wednesday.

The big picture: Greene’s comments came after his first election, in 2018, when he narrowly defeated a Black candidate for sheriff, Lewis Hatcher, by less than 40 votes.

  • Hatcher challenged the election, saying Greene shouldn’t have been eligible because he didn’t actually live in the county.
  • A court appointed Jason Soles, a white man, as acting sheriff while elections officials investigated Greene’s residency.
  • Soles told WECT last year that shortly after he took the interim job, he started receiving late-night calls from Greene complaining about Hatcher and fired sergeant Melvin Campbell, both of whom are Black.
  • "He made the comment that he hated Democrats," Soles told WECT. "And then he said, 'I take that back. I hate a Black f***ing Democrat.' And I knew right then, I was like, 'Wow, this is coming from the sheriff.' And I had to start recording those conversations."

The WECT story and the recordings prompted the district attorney to petition a judge to have Greene removed from office twice: Once, about a month before the election, and again after he won re-election.

What they're saying: "Sadly, when the SBI got involved we learned that this phone call was just the tip of the iceberg," David said.

Flashback: This isn't the first time Greene has been scrutinized. In his first two years in office, the department accepted nearly $4 million in surplus military equipment, including helicopters and a mine resistant vehicle, WECT reported.

  • He also faced questions about involvement with the Oath Keepers after they publicly said they invited him to their Facebook page, but told the News & Reporter of Whiteville in 2020, "I’m not a member of the Oath Keepers nor have I been a member."

Between the lines: Columbus County borders Bladen, another rural and impoverished county that was the center of a major election fraud scandal that led state elections officials to overturn the results of the 2018 9th Congressional District race.

  • The central operative in that story, McCrae Dowless, also worked to help Greene get elected by less than 40 votes that same year. But national attention focused on Bladen because it involved a higher-profile congressional race.

Go deeper: The region has a history of racist law enforcement dating back to Reconstruction, as Axios’ Michael Graff and WBTV’s Nick Ochsner outlined in the 2021 book The Vote Collectors.


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