By Ivey Schofield
Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene, who was suspended earlier this month for making racist comments about Black deputies, resigned on Monday during a scheduled hearing to determine whether he would be removed from office.
In front of a crowded courtroom in Whiteville, Greene’s attorney said the sheriff “has denied all allegations against him.”
“But Jody lives in Columbus County and doesn’t want to put the people he has served through this ordeal,” said the attorney, Michael Mills.
Greene’s resignation was announced after North Carolina Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser denied Mills’ request to continue the hearing to a later date.
Sasser suspended Greene, a Republican whose name is on the November election ballot, on Oct. 4 at the request of local district attorney Jon David. The move came just days after the release of a recorded phone call from 2019 in which Greene made disparaging remarks about Black employees within the sheriff’s office who he said were aligned with former sheriff Lewis Hatcher.
David, a Republican who serves as the top prosecutor in Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus counties, filed an amended petition to the court on Friday that outlines several other allegations against Greene. Those allegations include having an affair with a detective in the sheriff’s office, firing a Black sergeant and trying to influence county commissioners.
In a Facebook post on Monday afternoon, Greene denied the allegations against him and apologized for the language he used during the recorded call, in which he called deputies “Black bastards.”
Greene said he resigned to focus on his reelection campaign. He faces Democratic challenger Jason Soles, who previously worked at the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office, in the Nov. 8 election.
“I am running to make Columbus County better and safer for all our citizens,” he wrote on Facebook. “I cannot afford to spend the next week fighting in a courtroom while we are in the middle of an election to preserve our freedom.”
On Monday afternoon, David said he would refile his petition for Greene’s removal if Greene wins reelection.
In court documents, David accused Greene of “corruption while in office” and “willful misconduct and maladministration in office.” Both are among the offenses that could lead a judge to remove a sheriff from office under North Carolina statute.
Greene is the target of a probe by the State Bureau of Investigation. David asked the SBI in late September to begin an investigation into Greene’s office for potential obstruction of justice.
David did not say what prompted the obstruction allegation, but he made the request shortly after the recorded phone call was made public.
It’s possible Greene could face a state or federal investigation into possible civil rights violations, Theodore Shaw, a civil rights lawyer and professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, told the Border Belt Independent.
The Governor’s Highway Safety Program has suspended funding to the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office because the office “may not be in compliance” with the Civil Rights Act, David said in the amended petition.
David said he removed Greene’s name from the list of approved court witnesses due to “racial bias.”
N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein’s office had heard “general allegations” involving Greene before the recorded phone call became widespread knowledge, said spokesperson Naz Ahmed.
“Our office was made aware of general allegations involving the sheriff, but nothing about recordings of him making racial slurs against his deputies,” Ahmed said. “We shared the information we received with the local district attorney.”
The state NAACP asked the U.S. Department of Justice last week to look into whether Greene and his office violated anyone’s civil rights.
The key to such an investigation, Shaw said, would likely be potential voting rights transgressions. Hatcher, who lost to Greene in 2018, alleged that at least 180 absentee ballots were unaccounted for, enough to potentially swing the election his way. Greene won by fewer than 40 votes.
With the 2022 election two weeks away, Shaw said the Justice Department would likely opt against an investigation now.
“That’s going to be a wait and see after the election,” he said.
Details of allegations
Here are some of the allegations outlined in the amended petition filed Friday:
- Greene is accused of having an extramarital affair with a detective, Samantha Hickman, from September 2019 to May 2020. Some of the sexual encounters occurred during times when Greene and/or the detective were on duty, David said in court documents. A deputy said in an affidavit that Hickman got pregnant with Greene’s child, and Hickman had an abortion in Wilmington. On Monday, Hickman said in a Facebook post that she “was in a relationship with a male” in late 2019 and had an abortion, but she did not name Greene.
- According to the petition, Greene suspected a “leak” in his office and requested phone records from Verizon for Lewis Hatcher, the incumbent who did not win reelection in 2018, and Sgt. Melvin Campbell. Hatcher and Campbell are Black. In an affidavit, Campbell said he was fired from the sheriff’s office in 2019, although there were no complaints against him.
- Another Black deputy, Joshua Harris, said in an affidavit that Greene accused him of “talking junk” about him. Harris said Greene told him, “When I get to the bottom of it someone is going to be a fired ass.”
- After Soles resigned from the sheriff’s office in 2019, Greene became “irate” when he learned Soles had gotten a job with the Whiteville Police Department, according to the petition. During a recorded call with the Whiteville city manager, the petition says, Greene threatened to arrest Soles if he went on county property.
- Deputies arrested Soles’ stepfather, Jesse Lee Croom, after Croom said he “needed to go grow up” following a county commissioners’ meeting in 2020, according to the petition.
- Greene lashed out at a county commissioner in 2020 after the board voted against “significant” pay raises and riot gear for the sheriff’s office, records say. Greene’s deputies also arrested another commissioner, Giles “Buddy” Byrd, on suspicion of property crimes. An outside “conflict prosecutor” said the charge should be dismissed.
- During a county board meeting, Greene “allowed several of the officers under his employ to line up in an apparent attempt to intimidate the county commissioners,” according to the petition.
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