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Tensions Between Sheriff, Charlotte Jail Support Group Grow After Arrest Interference

WFAE/Sarah Delia

Tensions came to a head Monday between the group Jail Support and the Mecklenburg County’s Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Garry McFadden says the group interfered with a deputy’s attempted arrest of a man who allegedly assaulted a woman. The sheriff’s office says the group is damaging property and getting in the way of the department doing its job. Jail Support says it provides an important service and has the right to be there. The group offers rides, food, and clothes to people being released and says they need to be close to the jail to provide services.

Activist Kristie Puckett Williams with Jail Support and the ACLU of North Carolina wasn’t there when a confrontation broke out Monday morning, but she made no apologies for what occurred when members of the group intervened in an attempted arrest.

"Because what we recognize is that incarcerating people especially in the midst of a pandemic but on any day does nothing really to address the underlying violence," she said. "So them arresting that gentleman does not keep that woman safe. That gentleman will be back out. So what are we going to make sure genderized and racialized violence is addressed in meaningful ways? That is why Jail Support exists."

Monday resulted in a 5 p.m. press conference called by the sheriff after a tense day with Jail Support, a group that consists of members of Charlotte Uprising. The groupused to be locatedright next to the jail until McFadden forced them to move. Jail Support set up across the street.

McFadden says after members intervened with the attempted arrest, the group tried to come into the lobby of the arrest processing area. 

"That door is closed because of COVID-19 so you have to go entrance door to get in," McFadden said. "They began to bang on the door, curse and came inside the building so we were simply escorting them back out of the building when we had this confrontation."

At one point McFadden pulled out his phone and recorded the confrontation, as did members of Jail Support. When asked, McFadden said he would release what he recorded.

This incident seemed like the tipping point for the sheriff. He said Jail Support already caused damage to property.

"The maintenance company now pays over $400 a week to clean feces daily before the staff enters the building," McFadden said. "Graffiti has to be cleaned up -- $1,200 with graffiti. When we talk about taxpayer dollars, that's where your tax dollars are going. Replacement of windows, $3,000."

And he said employees are being negatively impacted.

"I have informed the city and I have informed the county weekly of what we have to go through here, and I was told at some point, ‘You should understand to be cursed out, you should understand to be called names, you should understand your car will get spit on, you should understand all of this because this is part of your job because you choose to be a law enforcement officer,'" McFadden said. "But here’s something they do not understand: Everybody who has a shirt on that says Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office is not a law enforcement officer."

So if McFadden is bringing this situation up to both the city and the county, does he feel alone in this issue?

"I’m not alone," McFadden said. "I don’t think people have the courage to challenge it."                                          

He went on to say:

"A lot of people say they have the sheriff’s back and I tell them, ‘I know you have my back, but I don’t know who you are because I can never see you, because you’re still behind me. This is a crisis that is going to happen, and I’m just letting people know something is going to happen. Somebody is going to get hurt."

McFadden repeatedly said he supports Jail Support, but things needed to change. He mentioned there are members of the group who are willing to work with the department but it’s hard. As he spoke, members of Jail Support could be heard outside the building. Someone started to pull down the blinds. McFadden stopped them.

Outside, a literal storm was brewing with thunder, lightning and rain.

Then McFadden came outside. And a second unofficial press conference started, this time with members of Jail Support. Deputies stood on the perimeter of the conversation keeping an eye on McFadden.

The exchange was a tense one, and the back-and-forth went longer than the first 30-minute press conference he had inside with reporters. Voices rose with accusations against McFadden’s intentions. The sheriff would listen and then interject.

Both sides appeared tired and frustrated. After a while, the conversation turned to next steps and questions over ways to move forward which were unclear. One thing is certain: Jail Support wants to remain in its location under tents across the street to be near the jail to provide services, while the sheriff’s office says something has to change.

Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.