North Carolina sheriff resigns, again. ‘Tip of the iceberg,’ DA says of investigations

By Ivey Schofield and Sarah Nagem

The Columbus County sheriff resigned on Wednesday for the second time in 10 weeks, bringing to a close one chapter of a tumultuous period that has highlighted racial divisions in this rural county in southeastern North Carolina.

But Jody Greene, who resigned shortly before a court hearing to determine whether he would be suspended or removed from office, likely faces more trouble ahead, local District Attorney Jon David said during a press conference.

Greene, and deputies who served under his command, are the targets of ongoing investigations, including a probe by the State Bureau of Investigation, David said.

“Sadly,” he said, “when the SBI got involved we learned that the phone call was just the tip of the iceberg.”

David, a Republican who serves as the top prosecutor in Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus counties, initially called for Greene’s suspension and removal in October, shortly after a 2019 phone call was released to the media. During the call, Greene called deputies “Black bastards” and threatened to fire them.

Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser suspended Greene on Oct. 4, and Greene resigned three weeks later at the start of a hearing – a scenario much like the one that played out on Wednesday.

Then, on Nov. 8, Greene won re-election as the first Republican sheriff of Columbus County, beating Democratic challenger Jason Soles by 8 points.

The latest hearing was in response to a court petition filed by David moments after Greene was sworn in for a second four-year term on Thursday, weeks behind schedule due to election protests that were ultimately denied.

In the petition, David once again accused Greene of corruption in office and abuse of power, saying he racially profiled employees, tried to intimidate county commissioners, engaged in a sexual relationship with a subordinate and failed to ensure proper supervision at the jail.

Michael Mills, Greene’s attorney, said Wednesday that the past few months have taken an emotional and economic toll on the sheriff’s office and Greene’s family.

“He had decided enough is enough,” Mills said of Greene’s resignation.

The allegations against Greene have grown over the weeks.

In the new petition, David said Greene demoted and then fired Clementine Brown, who was reportedly the only Black woman on the command staff. In a sworn affidavit, Brown said she was terminated after she left a Walmart store without scanning five bags of pecans, although she quickly realized her error and returned the items. 

A lieutenant with the Whiteville Police Department said in his own affidavit that members of the sheriff’s office urged him to bring criminal charges against Brown. He declined to do so. 

Read more about the allegations against Jody Greene

In December, an investigator with David’s office seized several cell phones from the evidence room at the sheriff’s office, according to a search warrant reported by The News Reporter in Whiteville.

Much of the warrant is sealed, but according to the document, investigations also include the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

David said his office had planned to call witnesses if Wednesday’s court hearing had proceeded. Evidence, he said, includes “audio tape recording to conclude by clear and convincing evidence” that Greene is guilty of the allegations laid out in the petition.

The turmoil surrounding the sheriff’s office has shaken Columbus County, where about 30% of residents are Black.

Many people, including those involved with the local chapter of the NAACP, quickly condemned Greene and said his racially charged remarks in the recorded phone call reflect a larger problem of racism in the community.

Greene’s supporters, however, have mostly stuck with him, saying he has made strides in reducing drugs in Columbus County.

On Wednesday, Sasser and David said they looked forward to a healing community.

“I hope we can go forward to make this a better county,” Sasser said.

David said he believes in the “resilience” of the sheriff’s office, the justice system and the county. “Somehow, someway,” he said, “I believe we’re going to be better for what has happened.”

Kevin Norris, who currently serves as chief deputy, will serve as interim sheriff until Columbus County commissioners appoint someone to serve in the role, Sasser said.

The former interim sheriff fired Chief Deputy Aaron Herring last month. The reason for the termination was not made public.

But in sworn affidavits attached to David’s petitions, Herring is accused of choking a student at a local high school, intimidating a Democratic party leader and encouraging the removal of an SBI liaison from the sheriff’s office.

Herring was the subject of an SBI investigation after he was accused of beating a local man, Juwarn Britt, in the back of a patrol car in 2015, before Greene was sheriff. Herring was found not guilty in the case.

Jason Lee Croom, Soles’ step-father who was arrested by deputies in March 2020 after allegedly telling Greene he “needed to grow up,” said Wednesday he was pleased by Greene’s resignation.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” Croom said. “The negatives that have gone on in the county have just damaged it, but not beyond repair.”

Greene’s career as sheriff isn’t necessarily over. Since he resigned and was not removed from office, he could run again, as he did in the November election. This time, he would have to wait until 2026.