by Jo Ellen Nott
On January 4, 2023, Jody Greene (R) resigned as Sheriff of North Carolina’s Columbus County – for the second time in just over two months. First elected in 2018, he had earlier resigned in October 2022 to avoid being removed from office, after he was caught on tape making racist slurs against employees. Remarkably, he then won re-election the following month while still at the center of the ongoing investigation.
Now retired, Greene won his first race for county sheriff by a slim margin of 34 votes over the incumbent, Sheriff Lewis Hatcher. The race was marred by allegations of illegal ballot gathering on behalf of Republicans by two consultants for Greene, Red Dome Group and Leslie Dowless, Jr., who were accused of the same shenanigans in the western part of the state where Dowless lived until his death in 2022. There the state elections board ordered a re-vote for U.S. Representative from the state’s Ninth Congressional district – the first congressional election ever invalidated.
As if that wasn’t enough Greene was also accused of not residing in Columbus County. An investigation followed, and Greene was placed on leave. One of his deputies, Jason Soles, was appointed acting Sheriff. In a taped phone call between the two, Green vowed upon his return that he would be “cleaning house” of the “Black bastards” employed in his department.
Soles said Greene was convinced that Black employees loyal to previous Sheriff Hatcher, who is also Black, were conspiring against him. When Greene’s calls became more frequent and the comments escalated, Soles said he had to start recording them.
“This one particular phone call that I received, he made the comment that he hated Democrats. And then he said, ‘I take that back. I hate a Black f***ing Democrat.’ And I knew right then... I had to start recording those conversations,” Soles said.
Concerned by the sheriff’s racist views, especially in a county that is one-third Black, Soles added: “This was not the leader that we needed leading the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office making these racial slurs.”
The controversy became more heated when District Attorney (DA) Jon David filed court documents in October 2022 revealing that his office had obtained a recording of the call between Greene and Soles from the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI). The audio had leaked online in late September 2022.
David’s other court filings said at least one Black employee had been fired after Greene’s remarks were recorded. On October 4, 2022, the DA filed a petition to remove Greene from office. Then, two weeks later, David filed an amended petition accusing the Sheriff of having an extra-marital affair with a detective in his department. Greene then resigned for the first time later in October 2022.
In addition to his racist rhetoric, Greene allegedly engaged in abuse of power. SBI investigators found he threatened constituents with arrest for disagreeing with him in public. Though he admitted to using offensive language, Greene claimed it was not racist or malicious. He also denied the allegations of abuse of power.
But Greene had other controversies swirling about him: The Freedom from Religion Foundation criticized him for displaying a Bible verse in his office while allegedly impregnating the detective, Sam Hicks – not just once but twice. Greene responded to his critics on Twitter: “We need more Jesus and less politics.”
The North Carolina’s Sheriff’s Association denounced Greene. So did the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP. Nevertheless, he ran again for sheriff and was re-elected in November 2022, easily beating his opponent, Soles. But Green still faced mounting pressures from DA David and the ongoing SBI investigation.
On January 4, 2023, less than a week after he was sworn in for a second term, Greene resigned. The announcement halted a hearing in Columbus County Superior Court that could have resulted in his removal and permanent disqualification from office.
To date Greene has not faced any charges on civil rights violations or obstruction of justice. On his Facebook page he lists himself as the “retired sheriff” of Columbus County, writing on January 5, 2023: “There comes a time in life that you have to choose happiness over something that you know will be nothing but a constant battle.”
Sources: Columbus News Reporter, The Guardian, Huffpost, NC Beat, New York Post, Raleigh News Observer, WBTV, WCET, WITN
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