This story was originally published by NC Policy Watch on Dec. 21. Story by Kelan Lyons.
The Department of Public Safety has suspended the Columbus County Sheriff’s Department from participating in a program that allows law enforcement agencies to acquire surplus military equipment.
The suspension is the latest development for Jody Greene, the Columbus County sheriff who resigned, and then was re-elected, after making racist comments about his Black employees. Greene has obtained $3.8 million in surplus military equipment since he took office in 2018.
Those who participate in the Department of Defense Law Enforcement Support Program must abide by certain terms, Gregory Weavil, state coordinator with the Department of Public Safety’s Law Enforcement Support Services (LESS), wrote in a letter to the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office dated Dec. 16.
“One of those conditions is to comply with anti-discrimination laws and regulations, such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Weavil wrote, suspending the sheriff’s office from requesting or receiving military equipment for at least 60 days, giving time for the local district attorney’s petition to remove Greene as sheriff to play out in court.
“Depending on the outcome of that petition and other ongoing investigations, the LESS Office may require additional corrective actions to be taken prior to reinstatement,” Weavil wrote. “Ultimately, if the LESS Office determines that reinstatement is not appropriate, it may result in the agency’s termination from the program and the transfer or return of all previously-issued equipment at the expense of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office.”
Serena Sebring, executive director of Blueprint NC, sent a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper, an employee with the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Public Safety on Nov. 29 requesting an investigation into Greene’s actions for potentially violating the agreements between the county, federal government and the state for the oversight of military surplus equipment.
Sebring mentioned the petition District Attorney Jon David filed in October to remove Greene from office, arguing that his behavior constituted “willful misconduct or maladministration in office” and that he was violating the Constitution by remaining in power.
“Such actions by high-ranking court officials against a sitting Sheriff are unprecedented in North Carolina — especially striking given that all three officials are Republicans,” Sebring wrote. “These serious charges by other public officials in themselves should disqualify his office from oversight of [Defense Logistics Agency, within the Department of Defense] DLA’s substantial grant of materials.”
In addition to calling his employees “Black bastards,” the transcripts of Greene’s phone conversations illustrate that he used military materials acquired through the program to, in Sebring’s words, “intimidate and threaten county officials,” including removing sheriff’s office equipment from a school campus that had been converted to serve as a courtroom during the height of the pandemic.
“…Those air conditioners we have over there with the court, we are going to get them tomorrow,” Greene said. “If the County Commissioners don’t think no more of us and we’re saving them $90,000 we gonna get our stuff back.”
In the phone call Greene called the air conditioning units “mine” and acknowledged that they came from the military. Sebring alleged that Greene used the equipment to “discipline a Commission that bravely turned down his early request for raises in salary and for $87,000 in riot shields at the time of protests against George Floyd’s homicide at the hands of police.”
Laura Howard, general counsel with the Department of Public Safety, sent a letter to Sebring on Dec. 19 acknowledging her request and informing her that the state had suspended the sheriff’s office from participating in the surplus military equipment program.
“NCDPS takes very seriously the allegations against Sheriff Jody Greene,” Howard wrote. “As an agency we do not condone discrimination of any kind, and we are committed to ensuring our partners uphold then highest standards of professionalism and integrity.”
In his letter to the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office, Weavil, who in mid-November said the office had been in compliance with the terms of the program, also said he would conduct a Program Compliance Review on Jan. 23, 2023.
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