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Sheriff: Confrontation, Arrests Outside Charlotte Jail Were 'A Catastrophe'

Sarah Delia
Mecklenburg sheriff's deputies remove people from the jail support station Thursday.

Mecklenburg Sheriff Garry McFadden said Friday that Thursday’s confrontation between his deputies and demonstrators outside the jail, which resulted in 43 arrests, was a catastrophe. 

Credit Ann Doss Helms / WFAE
Rapper DaBaby (center) talks at a forum alongside Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles (left) and Chief District Court Judge Elizabeth Trosch (right).

McFadden’s remarks came at a panel on racism and policing at the Harvey Gantt Center Friday afternoon. The "Black Lives Been Mattered" forum, hosted by rapper Da Baby, brought together officials from the city of Charlotte, the court system and law enforcement with activists and an audience.

During the forum, McFadden didn't elaborate on his statement that "yesterday was a catastrophe." It was a reference to his attempt to relocate a jail support crew that’s been set up on the sidewalk outside the uptown Charlotte jail since demonstrations over George Floyd’s death broke out three weeks ago. They provide food, water and other support to people leaving the Mecklenburg jail.

Afterward, he spoke briefly with reporters to explain. McFadden says he and his deputies have worked with organizers, arranging for them to get trash pickups and use restrooms. He said he notified them Thursday morning that they’d have to relocate at 2 p.m. because the reopening of some courthouse functions would bring more people through the jail site.

"We also had our flag stolen," he said. "We also had human feces outside. We had urination outside. They start sleeping outside. We tolerated all of that, plus having a running-round pit bull."

Credit Ann Doss Helms / WFAE
Sheriff Garry McFadden (left, masked) listens to Dena Paulding of the McCrorey Family YMCA at Friday's forum.

McFadden blamed the confrontation on an unspecified group that he said put out social media messages and brought people with another agenda.

"We wanted that to be peaceful," he said. "We didn’t bring riot sticks. We didn’t bring tear gas. We didn’t bring pepper balls. We simply thought that we were going to be able to move them to another location."

News reports and social media posts show people linked arms to block deputies from the supply tables on the sidewalk. Forty-three people were arrested.

Credit Ann Doss Helms / WFAE
Kristie Puckett-Williams speaks at Friday's "Black Lives Been Mattered" forum.

Kristie Puckett-Williams of the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justicealso took part in the Juneteenth forum. She and McFadden say they work together despite frequent clashes.

"He was absolutely right. It was a catastrophe," she said afterward. "I mean, it could have been avoided in my opinion. But I guess I am appreciative of the fact that he acknowledged that it was a catastrophe and he’s willing to figure out how we can move forward to keep jail support going."

Puckett-Williams said she isn't sure what McFadden is referring to in his comments about groups bringing in others.

Within hours of the confrontation and arrests, organizers had set up a new jail support station right across the street. McFadden says he’s still working with jail support organizers and supports their movement.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.