A suspended North Carolina sheriff has resigned in the aftermath of a leaked audio recording in which he called Black employees by derogatory names and said they should be fired, his attorney announced Monday.
Attorney Michael Mills made the announcement during a hearing on whether Jody Greene, who was elected Columbus County sheriff in 2018, should be removed from office, according to news outlets.
"Jody Greene loves Columbus County and does not want to put the people he has served through this ordeal," Mills told Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser. The announcement prompted applause from some in the courtroom, The News & Observer reported.
District Attorney Jon David had sought Greene's removal alleging that he had engaged in racial profiling of employees both personally and through those under his command, WECT-TV reported.
Sasser suspended Greene earlier this month until Monday's hearing on the petition for removal. The rest of the hearing was called off and David, the district attorney for Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus counties, said it was no longer necessary due to Greene's resignation.
David has said that he asked the State Bureau of Investigation to probe allegations of obstruction of justice within the sheriff's office. That investigation is ongoing.
The recording of the phone call was given to WECT-TV by a former sheriff's captain who's now running against Greene to be sheriff. Located about 120 miles (193 km) southeast of Raleigh, Columbus County has about 50,000 people and is approximately 63% white and 30% Black.
The 2019 call to then-Capt. Jason Soles came shortly after Greene narrowly defeated former Sheriff Lewis Hatcher, who is Black. Soles was temporarily acting as sheriff at the time due to a court-mediated agreement that kept Greene from assuming the duties of the office while election officials examined the contest, which was ultimately decided by fewer than 40 votes.
In the call, Greene, who is white, said he believed someone in the sheriff's office was leaking information to Hatcher, the station reported.
"I'm sick of it. I'm sick of these Black (expletives)," Greene is recorded saying. "I'm going to clean house and be done with it. And we'll start from there."
Greene was also recorded as saying: "Every Black that I know, you need to fire him to start with, he's a snake."
Several Black officers in leadership positions were later demoted or fired. WECT-TV reported that two Black officers were on the previous sheriff's group of high-ranking officers known as command staff, but that a captain was fired and a lieutenant was demoted after Greene was sworn in. Another Black sergeant said he was fired shortly after Greene was elected. The station reported that several Black deputies appear to remain in the sheriff's office in positions below the level of command staff.
Greene issued a statement arguing that the recording of the 2019 phone call had been edited or altered. But he didn't deny in the statement that he was on the call or that he made the statements.
Though Greene had been suspended since Oct. 4, he had been campaigning for reelection. His name remains on the ballot in the Nov. 8 election. But if Greene wins next month, David said in a statement late Monday that his office would have an ethical obligation to file a new petition to remove Greene based on the same allegations.