Ishee confirmed to head Department of Adult Correction

Todd Ishee was confirmed on Tuesday to head the Department of Adult Correction.

State senators unanimously confirmed Todd Ishee on Tuesday to head the Department of Adult Correction, an enormous new agency with a 40% staff vacancy rate responsible for overseeing the 115,00 people in state prisons or on probation or parole.

Ishee previously headed the prison system when it was under the umbrella of the Department of Public Safety. He left that job to lead the American Correctional Association last year but was lured back for the position legislators confirmed him for Tuesday.

Lawmakers voted in 2011 to put the state’s Department of Correction within the Department of Public Safety as a cost-cutting measure intended to make the government run smoother. Legislators reversed course in 2021, opting to return to a system similar as before, creating the Department of Adult Correction.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee interviewed Ishee last week before advancing his nomination to the Select Committee on Nominations, which also approved his confirmation Monday.

In his interview last week, Ishee talked a lot about staffing shortages at North Carolina’s more than 50 prisons. He also said it was important to offer educational opportunities to incarcerated people, which Ishee said makes prisons safer and also makes the incarcerated less likely to wind up back behind bars again after they’re sent home.

He also talked about prison safety, drawing a direct link between the safety of the incarcerated population and prison staff, and the prison system’s use of solitary confinement. Ishee said the prison system was revising its rules on restrictive housing, but it could not comply with the Mandela Rules on solitary confinement, which call for United Nations-member states to prohibit prolonged isolated confinement for more than 15 consecutive days.

“In corrections, we face some very, very harsh realities. You know, we’re supervising men that have killed employees of ours. And because of that level of dangerous, some [people] need to be in restrictive housing longer than 15 days,” Ishee said. “There are some [people] that just pose such a serious safety risk that they’ve got to be placed in that more controlled environment for beyond 15 days.”

The comment is notable because Gov. Roy Cooper’s own Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice has recommended the prison system model its restrictive housing policies on the Mandela Rules. Cooper is also the state official who picked Ishee to head the new Department of Adult Correction.

To read more about Ishee’s interview before the Senate Judiciary Committee, see this NC Policy Watch story from last week.

Racist jury strikes go on trial at the NC Supreme Court

The North Carolina Supreme Court building in Raleigh

Russell Tucker was a Black man facing the death penalty in the South in the “tough-on-crime” 1990s. He deserved the chance to be tried by a jury of his peers — people who might have had similar life experiences and been able to see him as something other than a one-dimensional “monster.” However, a Forsyth County prosecutor stole that chance at justice, which is supposed to be guaranteed by law.

The prosecutor came up with reason after reason why Black people could not remain on the jury. They were “monosyllabic.” They “didn’t make eye contact.” They “lacked a stake in the community.” One by one, the court allowed the prosecutor to send all the Black jurors home. Russell Tucker ended up with an all-white jury that did exactly as the prosecution asked: They deemed a young Black man unworthy of life.

Mr. Tucker, who has been on North Carolina’s death row since 1996, is represented by CDPL Senior Attorney Elizabeth Hambourger, along with co-counsel Tom Maher. On Feb. 8, Ms. Hambourger will argue before the North Carolina Supreme Court that racism illegally shaped Mr. Tucker’s jury. Details about how to attend or watch the arguments are here.

The issue before the court is not whether Mr. Tucker committed a terrible crime; he has admitted to killing a security guard outside a Kmart during a desperate and drug-fueled time in his life. Instead, the issue is whether our state will allow brazen racism in death penalty trials.

The racism we’re talking about doesn’t just affect people on trial for their lives, though all-white juries have been shown to convict more easily, even when defendants are innocent, and to sentence more people to death. Jury discrimination also deprives citizens of their Constitutional right to wield power in our democratic system. Read more

Twice defeated, Republicans to try again for forced sheriff-ICE cooperation bill

House Bill 10 is the latest effort by North Carolina House Republicans to compel sheriffs to honor “detainer” requests from federal immigration officials.

For the third time, Republicans will try to enact a law that would require sheriffs across North Carolina to cooperate with federal immigration authorities and honor detainer requests of people accused of certain crimes.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has twice vetoed similar measures.

But Republicans might have the votes this year to override the governor, thanks to a supermajority in the Senate and new House rules that could allow Republicans to call a snap vote and circumvent a veto.

The primary sponsors of this year’s bill are Rep. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, and Rep. Carson Smith, R-Pender. Under the proposal, jailers would query U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if they can’t figure out whether a person charged with certain crimes who is incarcerated at their jail is a citizen or legal resident. If ICE issues a detainer for that person, jail staff must bring them before a state judicial official, who could order the person be held in jail for up to 48 hours to comply with the federal detainer.

The bill would also require jail staff to produce annual reports to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety. Those reports would focus on seven data points, providing an in-depth at some of the ramifications of the new law, which would go into effect this December. The figures jail staff would need to send to the legislature would include:

  • The number of times the facility queried ICE regarding an incarcerated person’s immigration status
  • The number of times ICE responded to such a query
  • The number of times ICE issued a detainer request of an incarcerated person
  • The number of times a person was incarcerated for a full 48 hours, thus fulfilling the jail’s obligation to honor the request
  • The number of times an incarcerated person was held in jail and then released after ICE rescinded a detainer
  • The number of times an incarcerated person was held in jail who otherwise would have been eligible for release from custody
  • The number of times ICE took people into custody who had been the subject of detainer requests

The bill was introduced on Wednesday and passed first reading in the House on Thursday.

NC Republicans want Supreme Court opinions that went against them tossed

North Carolina Republican legislators have asked the state Supreme Court to throw out last year’s opinions on voter ID and redistricting and grant new hearings.

Court rulings striking down a voter ID law as racially discriminatory and redistricting plans as partisan gerrymanders were written and approved by a four-member Democratic majority on the seven-member Supreme Court. Republicans now have a 5-2 majority on the court.

House Speaker Tim Moore posted the court filings on his website Friday.

As a result of the Supreme Court orders, the legislature had to redraw state House, state Senate and congressional district maps last year. The Democratic majority on the court said the maps were partisan gerrymanders that violated the state constitution.

The congressional map used in the 2022 election was drawn by redistricting experts with oversight by three Superior Court judges.

A December Supreme Court opinion said the replacement Senate map was also unlawful. The legislature was ordered to redraw it.

Republicans maintain that matters of partisan redistricting are beyond the purview of state courts. In the Supreme Court petition, they asked the court to rehear the question whether the Senate plan is unconstitutional and to overrule the redistricting decision from last February.

The petition calls last year’s redistricting decisions “unfounded judicial interference.”

In an email, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represented Common Cause NC in the redistricting case, said Common Cause opposes a rehearing, and that applicable court rules don’t automatically grant it.

“Self-serving politicians are desperately trying to undermine the state Supreme Court’s landmark ruling against discriminatory gerrymandering. Partisan legislators want to claw power away from the people of North Carolina and go back to illegally manipulating our voting districts,” Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, said in a statement.

In the voter ID case, the Democratic majority on the court upheld a lower court ruling that a 2018 voter ID law was “motivated by a racially discriminatory purpose.”

In the petition to rehear that case, Republicans said that the legislature passed the law after voters approved a constitutional amendment for voter ID and that the law was written without discriminatory intent.

“The people of North Carolina sent a message election day. They clearly rejected the judicial activism of the outgoing majority. I am committed to fighting for the rule of law and will of the voters. It’s time for voter ID to be law, as the people of North Carolina have demanded,” Moore said in a statement on his website.

The legal team that brought the voter ID case opposes a rehearing, the email from the Southern Coalition said.

“This petition is another example of legislative leadership stopping at nothing to infringe on the right of African Americans to vote freely in North Carolina,” Jeff Loperfido, interim chief counsel of Voting Rights at the Southern Coalition, said in a statement. “We’re disappointed that lawmakers would choose to waste time rehashing arguments that were rejected by the Court mere weeks ago rather than doing the work of passing a voter photo ID that passes constitutional muster.” 

 

A controversial NC sheriff resigns. Here are the allegations against him.

Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene spoke with supporters during his swearing-in ceremony last month. Photo by Sarah Nagem

Jody Greene resigned last week, six days after he was sworn in for a second term as Columbus County sheriff.

Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser initially suspended Greene on Oct. 4 at the request of local District Attorney Jon David. The move came shortly after a 2019 phone call in which Greene made racist remarks was released to the media.

Greene, who was first elected in 2018 as Columbus County’s first Republican sheriff, resigned on Oct. 24 at the start of a hearing to determine whether he would be removed from office. He won re-election on Nov. 8, beating Democratic challenger Jason Soles, who recorded the phone call.

Moments after Greene was sworn in on Thursday for a second four-year term, David re-filed a petition asking for Greene’s suspension and ultimate removal. In court documents, David accused Greene of corruption and maladministration in office, including racially profiling sheriff’s office employees.

Here’s more about the allegations against Greene.

‘I’m sick of these Black bastards. I’m gonna clean house and be done with it.’

‘If you ain’t with me – I ain’t referring to you – but if they’re not with me, they’re against me. And they’re gone.’

‘(Expletive) them Black bastards. They think I’m scared? They’re stupid.

 

 

Clementine Brown, who worked with the sheriff’s office since 1998 and was the only Black woman on the command staff, says she was demoted in January 2019 and was forced to take a $10,000 annual pay cut. She was fired in the summer of 2020 after she says she forgot to scan five bags of pecans at a self-checkout at Walmart and quickly returned the items to the store. A lieutenant with the Whiteville Police Department says the sheriff’s office urged him to press charges against Brown but he declined.

Melvin Campbell, who spent nearly three decades with the North Carolina Highway Patrol, started working at the sheriff’s office in 2016. He says he was fired in January 2019 by then-Chief Deputy Aaron Herring, who told him that Greene no longer needed his services. In an affidavit, he said he never was disciplined during his time in the sheriff’s office.

In an affidavit, Whiteville City Manager Darren Currie said an “irate” Greene called him in late 2019 after Jason Soles, a former sheriff’s office employee, was hired by the Whiteville Police Department. Greene allegedly told Currie that Soles was not permitted on county property.

Soles’ step-father, Jason Lee Croom, was arrested in March 2020 after telling Greene he “needed to grow up,” court records show. The charge was ultimately discharged. Read more