How A Racist Sheriff Won Reelection In North Carolina

Jody Greene abused his power in Columbus County. And the Republicans around him supported it.
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Illustration:Jianan Liu/HuffPost Photo:Getty Images

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

In February 2019, Jody Greene, the county’s sheriff, disparaged his Black employees in a phone call with police Capt. Jason Soles. He called them “Black bastards” and said he would “clean house” of them, and no one could stop him— because he was “still the motherfucking sheriff.”

The recorded 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 district attorney filing for his removal from office, and Greene eventually resigning from his position — but he still was on this year’s ballot.

And while his recorded remarks sparked local outrage, his fellow Republicans supported him, and he quickly won reelection to the office he had just resigned from.

Greene defeated Soles with 54% of the votes, according to unofficial results from the county. Greene will be formally sworn in on Dec. 5. However, County District Attorney Jon David said he would file another official court petition and order for Greene’s removal.

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

“Tomorrow’s gonna be a new fucking day. I’m still the motherfucking sheriff... Fuck them, Black bastards, they think I’m scared? They’re stupid. I don’t know what else to do with it. So it’s time to clean them out,” Greene said in the recording.

“I ain’t gonna have it. I’m gonna cut the snake’s fucking head off. Period... and Melvin Campbell is as big a snake as Lewis Hatcher ever dared to be. Every Black that I know, you need to fire him to start with, he’s a snake!” Greene continued.

At least one Black person was fired following the conversation.

A racist sheriff in North Carolina was reelected despite a leaked recording of him using expletives in a diatribe about his Black employees.
A racist sheriff in North Carolina was reelected despite a leaked recording of him using expletives in a diatribe about his Black employees.
Paul Souders via Getty Images

Once the audio recording from the phone call was made public, Black sheriffs in the area began demanding answers.

Greene resigned from the sheriff’s association days after his remarks surfaced, though he remained in office for a few 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 is “not fair” to Columbus County nor to the other sheriffs in the state. He believes the state sheriff’s association should have taken stronger action against Greene, but they likely 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-paying dues 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 association’s decision-making and vetting process of members and rules.

“There is no diversity or inclusion in that organization. Black sheriffs are not on any executive boards,” he added.

Despite his resignation, Greene still was on this year’s ballot. A voter fills out a ballot at a polling place on Nov. 8 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Despite his resignation, Greene still was on this year’s ballot. A voter fills out a ballot at a polling place on Nov. 8 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

“Nobody has said, ‘how do we move forward as an organization?’ They go to sheriffs who don’t look like me to get things done and changed. I think there should be more; there should be training. It should be more than he just resigned,” McFadden said.

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

At one point, there were two Black sheriffs out of the total 15 executive committee members. But they both died, according to the association’s website. No other Black sheriff has since become a part 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 filing states Greene and another detective were having sex in his county-issued Dodge Durango, his office and a shooting range. Many of their intimate relations occurred while still on duty. The detective eventually ended up becoming pregnant with his child before she eventually went to Wilmington to have an abortion, the filing says.

It also cited Greene pursuing criminal charges against a county commissioner after he voted against providing pay increases and riot gear to the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office. The commissioner, Giles Byrd, said he thought 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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