News Roundup

Wilmington News Station WECT broke the story Wednesday that Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene was recorded in February 2019 making racially-charged comments to Jason Soles, then a Captain who had just been tapped as the temporary leader of the department. Greene’s tenure as sheriff was clouded with controversy from the get-go, beginning with a challenge to whether the recreational vehicle located on farmland he owned in Columbus County was his residence, an issue decided in Greene’s favor by the state elections board. That challenge led to the naming of Soles as caretaker for the department while the elections issues were sorted. Keep reading for more on this story.

Greene had bested former Sheriff Lewis Hatcher, an African-American, by 34 votes in the November 2018 election. Shortly after taking office, Greene fired Sergeant Melvin Campbell, also an African-American, whom Greene, a retired first sergeant with the State Highway Patrol, had supervised during Campbell’s 30-year career with the State Highway Patrol.

In the recorded call, Greene reportedly wanted to know who in the office had communicated with Hatcher and Campbell, stating: “I’m sick of it. I’m sick of these Black bastards. . . . I’m going to clean house and be done with it. And we’ll start from there.”

Greene reportedly went on to say that he was going to start firing people who were “guilty by f**king association” with Campbell and Hatcher, elaborating: “We’ll cut the snake’s head f**king off. Period. And Melvin Campbell is as big a snake as Lewis Hatcher ever dared to be. Every Black that I know, you need to fire him to start with, he’s a snake.”

The North Carolina Sheriff’s Association reacted quickly, voting unanimously on Thursday to hold a hearing to determine whether Sheriff Greene should be expelled from the Association. Eddie Caldwell, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for the Association, noted in a press release that “sheriffs are and should continue to be held to the highest standards of professionalism, ethics, principles, and morals and should serve their communities regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, or sex.” Caldwell wrote that “[c]omments disparaging North Carolina citizens certainly do not meet those standards.” When Greene was notified of the decision to schedule a hearing, he resigned from the Association.

WECT reports that after receiving a copy of the recording earlier this week District Attorney Jon David has requested that the SBI investigate allegations of obstruction of justice by the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office.

Adnan Syed released. In other news, Adnan Syed, the defendant whose trial and conviction for murdering his former high school girlfriend in 1999 was chronicled in the podcast Serial was released from prison last week, after a judge, with the support of the District Attorney’s office, vacated his conviction. The judge concluded that prosecutors had failed to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence in the case and that they had discovered new evidence that could have affected the outcome. The District Attorney’s office has not asserted that Syed is innocent. District Attorney, Marilyn Mosby (embroiled in her own legal controversy, having been indicted in January for perjury related to obtaining money from her city retirement account) said that prosecutors were waiting for the results of DNA analysis of evidence collected in the case that could inform their decision of how to proceed.

The brother of murder victim Hae Min Lee has appealed the decision, alleging that his right to meaningfully participate in the hearing was violated. On the day of the hearing, Young Lee filed a motion stating that he had not had sufficient notice to exercise his right to be present. The judge denied the motion, but ordered a a 30-minute recess to allow Lee to leave work and get on a Zoom call so that he could watch the hearing.

2022-23 Supreme Court term. Monday marks the start of a new term for the United States Supreme Court. Scotusblog has a preview here. Much of the interest for the current term focuses on cases involving affirmative action, voting rights, and free speech. But as always, there are several criminal cases on the docket and more may be added during the term. For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, members of the public will be able to attend oral arguments. The Court also will continue its practice of providing a live audio feed of oral arguments.