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Sheriff Jody Greene resigns again, and again his future remains uncertain

230104 Columbus County Courthouse.jpg
Benjamin Schachtman
/
WHQR
The Columbus County Courthouse in Whiteville, where Sheriff Jody Greene offered his resignation ahead of a hearing to consider his removal.

On Wednesday morning, a Columbus County Superior Court judge was preparing to consider a petition to remove Sheriff Jody Greene and disqualify him from again holding the office. But Greene’s resignation rendered the petition moot — and left open the question of whether Greene could serve in law enforcement, or even as Sheriff, in the future.

The hearing was delayed by about 30 minutes before District Attorney Jon David, whose office filed the petition, and Sheriff Jody Greene entered the courtroom from opposite doors. There had been some closed-door deliberations, but it wasn't clear about what.

Likely sensing the tense atmosphere in the crowded courtroom, Superior Court Judge Douglass Sasser told the audience that the court would issue fines if decorum was not maintained.

David, flanked by an SBI investigator and prosecution staff, told Judge Sasser that his team was ready to present the state’s case against Greene, asking the state to remove him from office and bar him from again holding office.

A recording of Greene making racist comments, made by former deputy Jason Soles and released as part of a WECT investigation in October, had done much to convict the Sheriff in the court of public opinion. But David’s office called the recorded call the “tip of the iceberg,” and had prepared over 70 pages of evidence to support further allegations of racist behavior, corruption, and misconduct against Greene.

Related: The case against Jody Greene

Greene sat silently, looking straight ahead, his arm in a sling. His attorney, Michael Mills, haltingly told Judge Sasser that the news coverage of and investigations into Greene had taken an “emotional and economic” toll on the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office, Greene, and Greene’s family.

Mills told the court Greene maintained his innocence, and did not want to let the District Attorney “pick the Sheriff of Columbus County” and, having won reelection, felt he had accomplished that — and was thus resigning, effective immediately. Mills produced a signed letter of resignation.

It was unclear if the move caught Sasser off-guard, but he informed Mills that he could not accept the resignation — only a representative of the county could do that. So, Sasser recessed the court to track one down.

Mixed reactions from the crowd

In the courtroom gallery, there was muted relief in the center row of benches, packed with largely Black residents — many from Columbus County, but some who had traveled from around the region. There was also anger in a smaller row of benches off to one side, where around two dozen white Greene supporters sat (some wearing matching t-shirts).

Some of Greene’s supporters angrily called David’s petition a “witchhunt,” suggesting it was personally and politically motivated, and that Greene was innocent.

Several Black residents said they were relieved; given the allegations of racist language and retaliation against Black deputies in the Sheriff’s Office, seeing Greene leave office was comforting. But they expressed other concerns: including lingering corruption in the Sheriff’s Office, miscarriages of justice under Greene’s administration, the lingering mistrust of county government, which had allegedly turned a blind eye to allegations against Greene, and skepticism about whoever would replace Greene.

“It’s always been like this,” one woman said. “It’s not changing because of this.”

On both sides, confusion: what did this mean for Greene? Was his career over — or had he dodged a bullet, again?

Resigned, not removed — and not disqualified

After finding a county representative to accept Greene's resignation and reconvening the hearing, Sasser told the courtroom it was “time to truly resolve this matter.”

But his ruling hadn’t quite accomplished that.

David’s petition was for removal and disqualification. Greene’s resignation had rendered the removal moot — “he’s not in office to remove from office,” Sasser explained to the gallery — but what about disqualification?

When David raised the issue in court, Sasser said the issue of disqualification would be more appropriate at a future time, if for example Greene was to file to run again in 2026, or was hired as a law enforcement officer (the statute underlining David’s petition can also apply to any sworn officer).

After Sasser adjourned the hearing, several Black residents voiced the same concern: what if the Columbus County Board of Commissioners, which by law must appoint a new Sheriff, were to choose Greene?

In a press conference following the hearing, David acknowledged that Sasser had not closed the book on the issue — but reiterated what he’d said after Greene’s first resignation, that his office would take action if necessary to prevent Greene from ‘carrying a badge’ — and noted that option was not limited to just the position of Sheriff.

“[Sasser] has not ruled on the issue of disqualification — if he dismisses that he made it very clear to the state that I would always have the remedy of filing a motion to remove and disqualify even deputy Jody Greene in the future. And we will certainly keep an open mind to do that. This office has been very consistent with where we stand on this issue. We simply do not feel as though Jody Greene should be someone who ever carries a badge again,” David said.

District Attorney Jon David addresses other concerns

230104 Jon David press release on Greene petition.jpg
Benjamin Schachtman
/
WHQR
District Attorney Jon David, standing at the podium, answered questions from the media following Jody Greene's resignation as Columbus County Sheriff.
District Attorney Jon David holds a press conference following Jody Greene's resignation.

Addressing other concerns, David refuted any charge that his actions against Greene were personally or politically motivated, and said he took “no joy” in filing the petition.

Asked about the timeline of how evidence of Greene’s misconduct came to light, David also reiterated that he took action immediately after hearing the recording of Greene’s racist comments.

Former deputy Jason Soles had told WECT that, for a year and a half, he had tried to get authorities to look into his recording of Greene — including discussing it with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) and several Columbus County commissioners.

David said if he’d known about the recording earlier, he would have acted earlier.

“Let me be clear, we did not know of these allegations, prior to that point, or I would have done something about it prior to that point. The SBI was contacted about the call, but apparently did not hear the call. Multiple county commissioners, according to what Jason Soles would testify to, were apparently made aware of the substance of that call,” David said, adding, “I think there was a lot of confusion on some people's part about what to do with that information or where to take it.”

Tacitly acknowledging that Greene’s misconduct has eroded faith in law enforcement, and even the criminal justice system at large, David said his office was undertaking a thorough review of cases.

“With respect to cases that are now pending in the system, I want to let people know that we will engage in a systematic review on a case-by-case basis to ensure that those investigations rest on found on a firm foundation, that the justice will be done according to the facts and the law and no extraneous considerations. And that we keep an open mind to listening and acting on cases,” David said, adding that they would be looking to defense attorneys to alert them to questions and concerns about pending, as well as past, convictions.

David also addressed the future of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office, saying he had “every confidence” in Captain Kevin Norris, who is serving as interim Sheriff. When it comes to a permanent replacement for Greene — at least until the 2026 election — David called on county commissioners to engage in a “sincere process.” He offered his own counsel, if commissioners wanted it, and suggested that commissioners hold interviews, and search for the best candidate.

As for Jody Greene, David said that his resignation would not prevent investigations of possible criminal offenses by state and federal agencies from continuing.

[Editor's note: Several members of the courtroom audience asked why Judge Sasser, who serves in Columbus County, did not recuse himself — although the question was partially rendered moot by Greene's resignation. WHQR sent a follow-up question to District Attorney Jon David, asking if his office would look for a judge from outside of the Columbus County jurisdiction in the event of a future removal hearing. This article will be updated with any response.]

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.