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Deputies made hourly patrols of sheriff’s house for three years, ex-captain says. Was it needed?

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Steve Harrison/WFAE
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Mecklenburg sheriff's deputies made hourly security checks of Garry McFadden's (above) home for years, according to a retired captain.

Soon after Garry McFadden became Mecklenburg sheriff in December 2018, now-retired captain Michael Matys said he was given a new order: Have his road deputies drive by McFadden’s home — nearly every hour, seven days a week.

“On the road, we would assign deputies at random to go by his home, hourly, between the hours of six and midnight to check on the residence and make sure everything looked orderly,” said Matys, who worked for the sheriff’s office for 29 years. “I would say we would do up to 18 checks in a typical day.”

During peak staffing, there are only 30 or so deputies patrolling the county. They perform duties such as serving domestic violence restraining orders or conducting traffic enforcement.

That means some deputies had to drive from one end of the county to the other, to cover a scheduled check of McFadden’s house in Huntersville.

“It’s not inconceivable a deputy may have to leave their assignment in Matthews, Mint Hill or maybe even Pineville area and drive up to the sheriff’s residence to make a check and then go back about their duties,” he said.

Matys said he was told threats had been made against McFadden — but he wasn’t given details.

He said he was following orders, though it’s unclear who gave them. McFadden said he didn’t order the checks.

When an elected official is threatened, Matys said security checks usually last about 30 days.

For the sheriff, they continued at least through 2021. Matys said they were still going when he retired in April, while McFadden said they stopped a year earlier.

“We would touch base once in a while with our supervisor once in a while and he would tell us to go ahead and continue the checks, so we just did.”

The home security checks occurred as a culture shift was underway in the department after McFadden became its first Black sheriff.

For example, McFadden said he would refer to people in the jail as residents — not inmates. He made changes to solitary confinement in an effort to make it more humane.

And then there was the 287g program. The sheriff’s office had worked with the federal government to enforce immigration laws. McFadden stopped that almost immediately after taking office, fulfilling a campaign promise.

In this transition, McFadden’s management style has come under fire. Deputies and detention officers left the department. The departures hit the detention centers especially hard, where violence against inmates and guards increased significantly.

McFadden has brushed off his critics, saying he is being undermined by what he has called a “good old boy syndrome.”

McFadden has long been the focus of attention, even going back to his time as a police detective, when he starred in a TV show called “I Am Homicide.” McFadden described himself in a promotion for the show.

“Am I cocky? Super cocky. Do I brag about it? No. I’m just super confident. Most people don’t even know my real name," he said in a commercial. "They’ll say - that’s homicide."

Matys and two deputies interviewed by WFAE said they never did home security checks for previous sheriffs.

But those predecessors were white.

McFadden said the threats against him were “related to the color of my skin.”

He said he received numerous threats, by letter, social media or verbally. WFAE asked for copies of the threats, but McFadden said he couldn’t provide them.

“I don’t know if I even have them,” he said during an interview in April.

The sheriff’s office later provided WFAE with one threat that was made in January 2019, two weeks after McFadden became sheriff.

The threat was a social media post that said the sheriff “should be shot.”

The sheriff’s office sent a letter to the person it believed made the threat, telling the person to stop. No charges were filed.

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Mecklenburg Sheriff's Office
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The Sheriff's office provided WFAE with a copy of one threat made against Garry McFadden. It also included this letter, telling the person to stop.

McFadden said he’s certain it wasn’t his idea to have deputies patrol his home.

“The sheriff never said that,” McFadden said. “The sheriff didn’t ask for them.”

He said his department decided he needed protection.

“My staff saw the safety and security of my family and me as their sheriff in jeopardy,” he said before adding, “That’s called leadership.”

The issue of threats to public officials is real.

Mecklenburg County judges have asked state lawmakers to give them public records exemptions to shield their addresses and personal information after some received threats.

And on Aug. 5, City Council members received an email with a death threat. CMPD sent patrol cars to some elected officials’ homes. Police then said they didn’t think the threat was legitimate and ended the patrols.

In the summer of 2020 during the George Floyd protests, City Council member Tariq Bokhari was outspoken about his support for Charlotte police. He said that resulted in credible threats against him and that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department sent patrol cars to drive by his house hourly for two weeks.

“That two weeks, that was a lot,” Bokhari said. “And a long time. I’ve never heard of something happening that long before in this town.”

Black leaders face a higher level of public scrutiny, said Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough. He’s that county’s first Black sheriff.

"When you talk about executives in law enforcement of course it exists. The scrutiny is totally different," Kimbrough said. "It’s different in terms of I’m not judged in the same accordance as my counterparts."

Kimbrough said he takes threats more seriously because he is Black. Although he hasn’t had deputies patrol his home, Kimbrough said he knows of some Black sheriffs who have.

In McFadden’s case, why didn’t the sheriff’s office keep copies of other threats that would help in any future investigation?

Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said his department keeps a record of everything, including threats made against public officials.

“If you don’t document it, you have no record of history,” Cathey said. “You don’t know what that person [who may have written the threat] did in the past. And if you solve it, you need that information. All of our records are the same. Anytime we answer a call out here, we document it.”

The extra security duties outside McFadden’s home came as the county’s two detention centers — run by the sheriff — struggled with staffing shortages.

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Mecklenburg Sheriff's Office
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Deputies were ordered to make hourly security checks outside the Garry McFadden's house.

Although the road deputies who did security checks at McFadden’s home do not usually work in the jails, they were sometimes called in when detention officers were overwhelmed, during large fights between inmates, or just understaffed. State reviews found the detention centers often missed required safety checks of inmates.

Despite the demands on his department, McFadden’s office did not ask the Huntersville police to help protect McFadden. Police Chief Bence Hoyle — who oversees 100 officers — said the sheriff’s office never informed his department of a threat against McFadden.

McFadden said no one ever told him that the security checks were time-consuming.

“I didn’t see a problem with it,” McFadden said.

He said he invited deputies to eat Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at his house.

“[The road deputies] came by ... and ate Thanksgiving at my house ... and Christmas dinner," McFadden said. "So they had a chance at that time to tell me, eating dinner at my table to tell me, but there never seemed to be a problem.”

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.