That’s what the man reportedly said:
On one end of the phone was Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene. On the other was then-Captain Jason Soles, who had just been tapped to lead the Sheriff’s Office while elections officials investigated a complaint questioning whether Greene was eligible to serve as sheriff.
Greene wanted to know who in the department had communicated with Lewis Hatcher, the former sheriff whom Greene had narrowly defeated in the election, and Melvin Campbell, a recently-fired sergeant, both of whom are African American. In Greene’s words, they had a “snitch” in the office, leaking information to his political opponent who had sued to be reinstated until the election protests were resolved.
“I’m sick of it. I’m sick of these Black bastards,” said Greene said to Soles. “I’m going to clean house and be done with it. And we’ll start from there.”
The call between Greene and Soles took place about two months into what was a tumultuous start to Greene’s career as sheriff. Greene beat Hatcher in the 2018 election by just 34 votes, at a time when election fraud in this rural part of North Carolina was making national headlines. The results were protested, in part over concerns Greene did not actually live in Columbus County as required by state law. He’d also been improperly sworn in before the state certified the election results.[…]
You may remember our previous reporting about that whole episode.
[…] Soles’ “promotion” to acting sheriff was the result of a court-mediated agreement between Greene and Hatcher, while elections officials worked to determine who was the rightful sheriff. Greene wanted his chief deputy, Aaron Herring, to serve as interim sheriff. But Herring was not an acceptable alternative to Hatcher and his supporters, in part because of Herring’s reputation in Columbus County’s African American community. Herring was arrested in 2015, charged with punching a handcuffed Black man in the face while serving as a Whiteville Police officer. He was later found not guilty, but that did little to quell concerns in some parts of the community about his treatment of African Americans.
Soles told WECT that immediately after his appointment as acting sheriff, he began getting late-night phone calls from Greene.
“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, and I knew right then, I was like, ‘Wow, this is coming from the sheriff.’ And, I had to start recording those conversations,” Soles said of the moments before he hit record on the phone call.
Soles, who is now running for Columbus County Sheriff against Jody Greene, said he was concerned that the most powerful law enforcement officer in Columbus County was racist, and would not treat Black employees or the residents he policed fairly
“It broke my heart. Because that’s not what I believe in. It upset me to the fact that I did have to start recording his phone calls. And I’m not wanting to go around recording people’s conversations. But… this was not the leader that we needed leading the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office making these racial slurs,” Soles explained.
The portion of the conversation Soles recorded lasted for six and a half minutes. He says the call happened late one night in early February 2019. Trying to track down the source of the apparent leak in his office, Greene can be heard saying that he’s contacted Verizon to get phone records to see if anyone in his department has made calls to or received calls from Lewis Hatcher or Melvin Campbell in the last two months.
“They’re gone. This is as fair as I’m going to be. Just giving you a heads up, that’s coming. When me and [attorney] Boyd [Worley] and [wife] Angie [Greene] go through it tomorrow, the first numbers we see, they’re gone. They ain’t going to make it brother. I’m telling you, they might as well find somewhere else to go. Because if you ain’t with me – I ain’t referring to you – but if they’re not with me, they’re against me. And they’re gone. And that’s just how it’s going to be. Clarity – whatever her name is, I don’t trust her. Dawn says she’s racist… If I have to fire every mother f***er out there, guess what?,” Greene can be heard saying at the beginning of the recording.
“I’m tired of them f***ing with me. It ain’t happening no more. No godd**n more. So you let them know, if I find their numbers in the next day or two, they ain’t going to like it. They damn sure ain’t going to like it. And that’s got to be somebody in the command staff. Clarity. I don’t trust her. She’s just sitting there staring at me the other day, the whole time. Staring at me the whole f**ing time,” Greene continues, apparently referring to Augustine Clarida, who at the time was an African American detention officer.
“Tomorrow’s gonna be a new f**king day. I’m still the motherf**king sheriff, and I’ll go up and fire every godd**n [inaudible]. F**k them Black bastards. They think I’m scared? They’re stupid,” Greene said.“I don’t know what else to do it. So it’s just time to clean them out. There’s a snitch in there somewhere tellin’ what we are doing. And I’m not gonna have it. I’m not going to have it.”
In the recording, Greene can be heard saying he’s going to start firing people who are “guilty by f**king association” with Campbell and Hatcher.
“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,” Greene says before ending the phone call.
Looking for Help
In the years that have passed since making this recording, Soles said he or his supporters have gone to every official he could think of, trying to get them to intervene in a situation that reeked of law enforcement bias.
Soles said he also brought the recording and other concerns about the sheriff to the attention of County Commissioners during a recess at a county commission meeting. However, he said Buddy Byrd, who has had his own trouble with the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office, was the only commissioner who followed up with him. While he shared Soles’ concerns, Byrd told WECT he was not able to affect any change without the support of his fellow commissioners, who are largely Greene supporters.
“Everybody had deaf ears,” Byrd said of the reaction of other commissioners when he told them about the recording of the sheriff making disparaging comments about his Black employees.
Soles’ supporters then reached out to officials at the state level, trying to get someone to take action. As a result, Soles says that a year and a half ago, an agent with the SBI came to meet with him about the recording of the sheriff’s racially charged comments. He said they seemed concerned by the content of the recording, but explained they could not open a formal investigation without being asked to by the District Attorney or the Attorney General’s office.
“I was told to just keep documenting everything that happens so that we would have a paper trail of it,” Soles said. “And we did. So as things would come in, I would reach out to him again, make sure they were aware of everything that was going on. And after that, we have had several complaints that have been filed with State Board of Elections, on issues that we’re having. And we’ve also met with some other state officials as well, to make sure that they were aware of what was going on.”
When reached by phone on Monday, Columbus County District Attorney Jon David said he learned of the recording for the first time an hour earlier. He said the SBI had reached out to him after getting an email from WECT asking about the recording. After learning what was on the recording, David said he was concerned, but unsure if Greene’s comments reached the level of a criminal violation. He said his prosecutors did not recall being previously informed about the racially-charged phone call.
Criminal or not, David said the comments did raise other potential concerns about biased policing by the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office, and that his office would need to review this to see if it may create issues for the Sheriff or officers in his department being credible witnesses for criminal cases they investigated. Then, on Tuesday, after obtaining his own copy of the recording, David formally requested that the SBI investigate allegations of Obstruction of Justice by the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office.
Soles said he was reluctant to involve the media in this issue. WECT actually reached out to him after someone familiar with the situation tipped off a reporter about the recording. After considering the matter for several weeks, weighing retaliation concerns and the fear people would accuse him of being politically motivated, Soles agreed to share the recording with WECT and do an interview.
“I didn’t want to do this to begin with, you know, I wanted help. I wanted to do it the right way. And I have reached out to everyone that I know to reach out to. I’ve even tried to get to the governor. I started at the bottom of the commissioners and worked all the way to the top to the AG’s office and the governor’s office. But I just can’t get seem to get any help. And so I’m reaching out to you guys,” Soles said.
Changing face of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office
Since taking office, Sheriff Jody Greene has made some significant changes to his staff. When Sheriff Hatcher was in charge, there were two African Americans on his command staff: Lt. Jeremy Barber and Captain Clementine Thompson. Green demoted Thompson within days of taking office, and cut her pay by $10,000. She was later fired. Barber, formerly the department’s lead detective, was demoted to the civil division. Greene’s command staff, made up of his highest ranking officers, no longer has any minorities.
Melvin Campell worked as a sergeant at the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office under Sheriff Hatcher and continued in that role after Greene was sworn in as sheriff. Campbell had previously served for 30 years on the North Carolina Highway Patrol, where Greene happened to be his supervisor. Campbell said his time at the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office came to an abrupt end about two months after Greene won the election.
“Aaron [Herring] called me to the office and say my services are no longer needed,” Campbell recalled. When Campbell later had a chance to hear the recorded conversation with Greene calling him a “snake” and saying that African Americans in the department should be fired, he said he couldn’t believe his ears.
“It kind of shocked me,” Campbell said. “You know, I mean, that that came out his mouth. I thought we was friends. You know, I mean, like I say, I really did think we was friends. But with friends like that, who needs enemies?”