WHITEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina judge has suspended a sheriff who was recorded calling Black employees by derogatory names and saying they should be fired.
The suspension of Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene on Tuesday comes after District Attorney Jon David sought his removal alleging that Greene engaged in racial profiling of employees personally and through those under his command, WECT-TV reported. Superior Court Judge Douglas B. Sasser suspended Greene until a hearing could be held on the petition for removal.
David, the district attorney for Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus counties, said last week that he asked the State Bureau of Investigation to probe allegations of obstruction of justice within the sheriff’s office, but declined to elaborate. The SBI confirmed the request, but declined further comment on what it called an ongoing investigation.
“Defendant has committed willful misconduct and maladministration in office,” David wrote in the petition. “The acts committed by Defendant… constitute corruption while in office.”
The 2019 call to then-Capt. Jason Soles came shortly after Greene narrowly defeated former Sheriff Lewis Hatcher, who is Black. Soles was temporarily acting as sheriff at the time due to a court-mediated agreement that kept Greene from assuming the duties of the office while election officials examined the contest, which was ultimately decided by fewer than 40 votes.
In the call, Greene, who is white, said he believed someone in the sheriff’s office was leaking information to Hatcher, the station reported.
“I’m sick of it. I’m sick of these Black (expletives),” Greene is recorded saying. “I’m going to clean house and be done with it. And we’ll start from there.”
Greene was also recorded as saying: “Every Black that I know, you need to fire him to start with, he’s a snake.”
Several Black officers in leadership positions were later demoted or fired. WECT-TV reported that two Black officers were on the previous sheriff’s group of high-ranking officers known as command staff, but that a captain was fired and a lieutenant was demoted after Greene was sworn in. Another Black sergeant said he was fired shortly after Greene was elected. The station reported that several Black deputies appear to remain in the sheriff’s office in positions below the level of command staff.
Greene issued a statement last week arguing that the recording of a 2019 phone call obtained by the television station had been edited or altered. But he didn’t deny in the statement that he was on the call or that he made the statements.
The recording was given to the station by a former sheriff’s captain who’s now running against Greene to be sheriff. Located about 120 miles (193 km) southeast of Raleigh, Columbus County has about 50,000 people and is approximately 63% white and 30% Black.
The hearing on the petition for removal is scheduled for Oct. 24.