WHITEVILLE, NC (WECT) - Jody Greene will remain acting sheriff in Columbus County for at least a few more days. Greene appeared in uniform at a court hearing Friday afternoon to resolve a lawsuit disputing his claim to the sheriff seat.
Lewis Hatcher, who served as Columbus County sheriff from 2014-18, filed a lawsuit last month seeking to be reinstated as sheriff. Greene tallied 37 more votes in the November general election than Hatcher, but there were several elections protests filed about missing absentee ballots and whether Greene actually lives in Columbus County, as required by law for a sheriff
The case was set to go to trial on Monday. However, WECT learned both parties went through nine hours of mediation and reached a settlement out of court.
Many of the terms of the settlement are confidential, but all parties agreed Hatcher and Greene will relinquish their claims to the sheriff seat until the NC Board of Elections can settle the pending protests.
Both parties agreed that Jason Soles, captain of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Detective Unit, will take over day-to-day responsibilities of sheriff beginning Wednesday. It was not immediately clear if Greene will continue to report to work after that, or if Greene or Hatcher will collect compensation from the county.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley said he learned about the settlement between Greene and Hatcher through the media. He said he did not want to know the terms of the confidential settlement agreement but was pleased they had reached an agreement outside of the courtroom.
“I would comment that both sides probably fared better as you would hope in this settlement than they would have had I been forced to rule,” Judge Shirley said from the bench in a Columbus County courtroom on Friday.
Shirley said the court would retain jurisdiction over the case to enforce the terms of the settlement agreement if it became necessary.
The SBOE has not set a date for when it will resolve the protests pending in the sheriff’s election but it could happen this month.
Some Whiteville residents were upset by the news that Greene was stepping down and feel they’ve been left uninformed about the process.
“I think it’s a big mess for the county,” said Sherry Kirk. “You don’t know what’s what really. We are in the dark about a lot of things going on.”
Guillaume Slama added, “I hear people talking about this pretty much every day. They are saying this is kind of crazy. We live in this small community and can’t figure out who the sheriff is.”
“It’s annoying, highly annoying. I think it’s unprofessional,” Christian Hilburn added. “If you win, you win. There is no sense. Just pick a winner already. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but I just want safety for this county. I have a 2-year-old growing up.”