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The case against Jody Greene

State v Jody Greene.JPG
Columbus County Superior Court
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WHQR

Columbus County Sheriff S. Jody Greene is accused of severe misconduct, including making racist comments, attempting to intimidate law enforcement agents, bullying elected and appointed officials, carrying on an inappropriate sexual relationship with an employee, and failing to provide proper oversight at the county’s detention center, where a detainee was seriously injured.

Editor's note: This report contains obscene and racist language that may be upsetting to some readers.

This week Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene will face a hearing to consider whether he should be suspended, removed, and permanently barred from the office, based on a petition recently refiled by District Attorney Jon David.

Greene is accused of severe misconduct, including making racist comments, attempting to intimidate elected officials, carrying on an inappropriate sexual relationship with an employee, and a failure of oversight at the county’s detention center which lead to the serious injury of a detainee.

These aren’t criminal charges, it should be noted, but part of a specialized civil procedure for removing an 'unfit official.'

Greene’s time as Sheriff has been rocky

It’s the latest chapter in Greene’s tumultuous tenure as Sheriff, which began with a narrow win over incumbent Lewis Hatcher — the county’s first Black sheriff — by just a few dozen votes in 2018. Even as he was being sworn in, Greene faced allegations that he was ineligible to serve because he did not live in the county. Reporting at the time by WECT’s Ann McAdams and others indicated that the Columbus County address used by Greene to file for office was not in fact his primary residence.

More recently, Greene has been accused of using racist language. In a recorded conversation with former deputy Jason Soles — who challenged Greene in the 2022 election — Greene threatened to ‘clean house’ of the ‘Black bastards’ in the Sheriff’s Office.

The recording was made in February 2019, just a few months after Greene’s contentious election victory, and Soles has said he made multiple attempts to get law enforcement, including the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, to look into the issue.

Soles finally went public with the recordings with WECT just weeks before the 2022 election, prompting some to claim it was an October surprise. But despite the negative press — including national coverage — Greene still won the election.

In a strange twist, Greene actually ended up resigning as Sheriff in order to evade District Attorney David’s initial petition. Resigning didn’t change Greene’s eligibility to run, but it did render David’s petition moot — although David vowed to refile the petition if and when Greene won and was sworn in again.

Port City Politics: Greene v. David redux

Short after Greene was sworn in last month, David did just that. The refiled petition includes a host of affidavits, including from members of law enforcement and elected officials, testifying to Greene’s misconduct.

Racist comments and actions

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Columbus County Superior Court
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WHQR
From District Attorney Jon David's petition to remove Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene.

One of the highest-profile charges in David’s petition against Greene is the racist comments he made to Soles in 2019.

David notes that Greene, “convinced that there was a leak in his office, sought phone records from Verizon apparently to ascertain whether Lewis Hatcher, Columbus County’s first African American Sheriff, or Melvin Campbell, an African American Sergeant, and other African American employees had been undermining [Greene’s] authority as the Sheriff.”

The petition quotes one particularly profane and racially charged statement from Greene.

“Tomorrow’s going to be a new fucking day. I’m still the motherfucking sheriff, and I’ll go up and fire every goddamn [inaudible]. Fuck them Black bastards. They think I’m scared? They’re stupid. I don’t know what else to do with it. So it’s just time to clean the out. There’s a snitch in there somewhere tellin’ what we are doing. And I’m not gonna have it. I’m not gonna have it,” Greene was recorded saying.

Several times, Greene mentioned by name Melvin Campbell, a Black deputy who has been with Columbus County Sheriff’s Office since 2016, having previously served 28 years as a State Trooper.

“Melvin Campbell, Lewis Hatcher they’re fired. They’re gonna be guilty by fucking association,” Greene was recorded saying, later also stating, “I’m gonna cut the snake’s fucking head off. Period … and Melvin Campbell is as big a snake as Lewis Hatcher ever dared to be.”

Campbell was fired before the end of January, 2019, just over a month after Greene took office.

Campbell had previously worked under Greene when both were State Troopers with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. In his affidavit, included in David’s petition, Campbell notes he did not publicly support Hatcher in the 2018 election; he had no political signs in his yard and didn’t work any polls. According to Campbell, in the short time Greene was Sheriff leading up to his dismissal, he had received no warnings or complaints about his job performance.

Attempting to coerce other law enforcement agencies

After firing Campbell, Greene apparently went after another Black deputy, this time — according to the evidence presented in David’s petition — attempting to pressure another law enforcement agency to provide cover for Greene’s desire to remove the employee.

David’s petition cites the case of Clementine Brown, a Black deputy with over twenty years of service with the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office. Brown had risen through the ranks and had for several years overseen the county’s detention center as a captain.

Greene removed Brown — at the time one of only two Black employees on command staff, and the only female — from her role leading the detention center, a demotion that reduced her salary by $10,000. Following that, top brass at the Sheriff’s Office allegedly attempted to get Brown arrested.

According to the affidavit of Andre Jackson, a lieutenant with the Whiteville Police Department, “numerous members of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office on numerous occasions” attempted to get Whiteville to initiate an investigation against Brown for shoplifting.

In Brown’s own affidavit, she describes mistakenly forgetting to scan several bags of pecans at the Whiteville Walmart. She stated she returned to the store and paid for them.

Walmart did not press charges, but the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office did push the issue, sending its own deputy to investigate. Jackson, however, considered the issue “so minor” that he did not even fill out a report on it.

Brown stated she felt she had a ‘target on her back,’ and that Greene would look for plausible grounds to fire her after firing Melvin Campbell with no cause. Jackson agreed, stating, “it appeared to me that the sheriff’s office was attempting to get the Whiteville Police Department to charge Brown as the basis for her termination.”

Jackson stated he was uncomfortable with the pressure to charge Brown, something he felt would be unethical and immoral since he believed “absolutely no crime had been committed.”

Jackson declined to swear out a warrant for Brown. She was fired shortly afterward.

According to Brown’s affidavit, Jeremy Barber — then the only other Black deputy in a command position — completed an internal affairs investigation on her, charging her with Abuse of Position and Conduct Unbecoming. Barber substantiated the latter charge, according to Brown, who wrote that Barber “told me he did so because ‘I have to.’”

Under North Carolina law, sheriffs are allowed broad discretion over hiring and firing — including firing employees for failing to support them politically or for failing to donate financially to their reelection campaigns — a controversial power also extended to registers of deeds in the state. In early 2016, the North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed this power in a series of three unanimous rulings.

However, that power does not usurp state and federal protections against discrimination of protected classes — and based on that, David’s petition argues that Greene has “personally, and by directing those under his command, engaged in racially profiling of Columbus County Sheriff’s Office employees.

Intimidation and abuse of authority

David’s petition identifies several incidents where Greene allegedly used his position in an abusive or intimidating way.

These allegations include attempting to intimidate the Whiteville Police Department after it hired Jason Soles; Greene allegedly threatened to arrest Soles and impound his Whiteville police vehicle if he was found on the property of the Columbus County Jail.

Whiteville City Manager Darren Lee Lurrie attests to the incident in his affidavit, describing a heated phone call with Greene, who shouted “that son of a bitch better not come on my property. That motherfucker can’t come on my property,” referring to Soles, according to Lurrie.

Lurrie stated he threatened Greene with legal action if the Sheriff arrested any Whiteville employees or impounded any of the city’s vehicles. Lurrie notes that while Soles eventually stepped down to auxiliary status to help avoid a conflict, he remained concerned about Greene and the economic damage his bad reputation could cause for the region.

Greene allegedly also targeted Soles’ stepfather, Jesse Lee Croom. Croom attended a Columbus County Commissioners meeting, where some speakers voiced ‘frustration’ that Greene was attempting to secure control of the county’s animal shelter. According to David’s petition, Croom approached Greene after the meeting and told him to “grow up.”

Croom was immediately arrested but deputies struggled to come up with a plausible statute under which to charge him and the case was later thrown out.

David’s petition also details Greene’s attempt to bully then-County Commissioner Paisley Edwin Russ in 2020 after the county declined to provide a significant pay increase and riot gear to the Sheriff’s Office. Russ recorded the conversation and later provided it to the District Attorney’s office.

According to the petition, the recording captures Greene threatening to remove Sheriff’s Office equipment from a converted school that was serving as a court facility due to Covid-19; he also threatens to call OSHA on his own facilities, implying the fines and sanctions would fall on the county.

“You should have stood with us Edwin. I’m just gonna go ahead and tell you … I’m not going to help this county do shit,” Greene is recorded as saying.

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Columbus County Superior Court
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WHQR
Columbus County Sheriff's Office deputies lined up outside a county commissioners' meeting.

At a subsequent commissioners meeting, Greene “allowed several of the officers in his employ to line up in an apparent attempt to intimidate the County Commissioners,” according to the petition. A photo of this incident, included in the petition, appears to show about two dozen deputies lining the entrance to the building.

Greene also accused former commissioner James Prevatte of having stolen property but, in a confusing twist, then pursued felony charges against Commission Giles “Buddy” Byrd. David’s petition notes that “this confusion underscores that [Greene’s] true motivation in bringing criminal charges was to gain unfair leverage against all County Commissioners, rather than to solve a crime.”

At the time, District Attorney Jon David handed the case off to Charles Spahos, a prosecutor with the Conference of District Attorneys, to prevent any appearance of conflict. While Spahos found that there was insufficient evidence to charge Byrd, he advised deputies that there “could be sufficient evidence to charge and convict an acquaintance of Commissioner Byrd.”

But the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office didn’t seem interested in the case if it wasn’t against Byrd — and Spahos notes in his affidavit that deputies pushed back against his decision and tried to interrogate him about who his superior was.

Inappropriate sexual relationship

David’s petition cites two recorded phone conversations between Greene and a detective in the Sheriff’s Office and the sworn affidavit of a witness to the relationship. While apparently consensual, the relationship “interfered with the necessary and proper administration of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office,” including engaging in sexual acts while on duty — in one case, allegedly leading to the damage of a window in a county-issued vehicle.

This is the shortest section of David's petition, and includes few details.

Negligence leading to an injured detainee

The final charge in David’s petition concerns a detainee at the county detention center who was assaulted in August of 2022 by four other detainees, suffering a traumatic brain injury.

In part at the request of the District Attorney’s office, the State Bureau of Investigation sent agents to look into the incident.

According to their investigation, the victim of the assault had previously requested to be moved to another area of the detention center in fear of his own safety. SBI investigators also found detention center staff had “failed to perform mandatory checks on inmates as required by statewide policies and procedures.”

As an apparent result of these failures, detention staff appeared to remain unaware of the assault for roughly 20 minutes after it occurred, according to detention center video reviewed by investigators.

These failures were found to be ‘habitual,’ not an isolated incident.

While David’s petition does not make the connection explicit, it is worth noting that Clementine Brown had for years overseen the detention center. In her affidavit, Brown states that Greene initially did not fire her because, in his words, “unfortunately I haven’t heard nothing but good things about you” [the double negative appears to have been unintentional].

Following her demotion, Brown was said she was “told to train a replacement, that knew nothing about my job.”

This week’s hearing

A hearing on David’s petition for removal is set for 10 a.m. in Courtroom C of the Columbus County Courthouse on Wednesday, January 4.

WHQR has requested comment from Sheriff Jody Greene and will update this and future reporting if we receive any response. We will also have additional reporting following Wednesday’s hearing.

Below: The petition to remove Sheriff Jody Greene

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.