NC elections director denies protests of Columbus County sheriff’s race

By Ivey Schofield

North Carolina’s top election official has denied both appeals protesting the re-election of Jody Greene as sheriff in Columbus County. 

Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections, on Monday denied an appeal by Herman Lewis, a member of the local NAACP. She denied another appeal by local activist Calvin Norton last week. 

Both protests argued that Greene was not eligible to run in the Nov. 8 election because he had been suspended by a superior court judge a month earlier. Greene, a Republican, resigned on Oct. 24 at the start of a court hearing to determine whether he would be removed from office.  

Brinson Bell sided with the Columbus County Board of Elections, which ruled in a 2-1 vote last month to dismiss the protests. The two Republicans on the local board voted for the dismissals, saying no election laws were violated. 

“The allegations pertaining to this issue fail to establish probable cause to believe that an outcome-determinative violation of election law or irregularity or misconduct has occurred,” Brinson Bell wrote.  

Despite the denials, a swearing-in ceremony for Greene will continue to be on hold, said Ashley Collins, director of the Columbus County elections board. Lewis and Norton have 10 days to file appeals with the Wake County Superior Court.

The sheriff’s office has been in turmoil since late September, when news broke of a 2019 recorded phone call in which Greene called deputies “Black bastards” and threatened to fire employees he thought were aligned with the former sheriff. 

At the request of local district attorney Jon David, Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser suspended Greene on Oct. 4. 

In an amended petition to the court, David also accused Greene of having an affair with a detective, trying to intimidate county leaders and failing to ensure proper supervision at the jail.  

After Greene resigned, he continued to campaign for re-election and won 54% of the vote on Election Day to defeat Democratic challenger Jason Soles, who released the 2019 recording. 

In their protests, Lewis and Norton argued that Greene had been “adjudged guilty” when Sasser suspended him. 

But Brinson Bell disagreed. 

Greene “has not been adjudged guilty of corruption or malpractice in office, nor has Mr. Greene been removed by impeachment from the office as sheriff of Columbus County through the statutory process for doing so,” she wrote. 

Further, Brinson Bell wrote, “Mr. Greene has not been disqualified as a candidate for office in the 2022 election… Mr. Greene’s resignation followed by the voluntary dismissal of the proceedings ended the matter and does not mean the temporary suspension transformed into an indefinite suspension.”

For the appeals to continue at the state board level, at least one of the seven board members would have to object to Brinson Bell’s ruling within two days. None objected to the dismissals. 

Lewis won’t appeal Brinson Bell’s decision, his attorneys from Southern Coalition for Social Justice stated in a press release Wednesday.

“I’m disappointed that we have asked for help as Columbus County residents, and those requests have fallen on deaf ears,” Lewis said in the press release. “We still believe Jody Greene is unfit for office, and it is our hope that the Columbus County District Attorney moves for his removal as soon as possible.”

On Oct. 24, David promised to refile his petition for removal if Greene was reelected. He has yet to do so.

On Monday, Norton appealed to the Wake County Superior Court. The court can decide to reject of hear the appeals, Collins said. Until then, Greene’s swearing-in ceremony remains on pause.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Collins said.