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Cornelius News

Sheriff outlines challenges, and path forward

Sheriff McFadden wants a magistrate in North Mecklenburg

By Debbie Griffin. Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden answered questions for an hour during a Newsmakers Breakfast where the audience asked about everything from ICE cooperation and justice reform to traffic enforcement and budgets.

McFadden, the first African American sheriff elected in Mecklenburg County, won the seat in 2018 from long-time Sheriff Irwin Carmichael. He said they have been friends for many years, and they met for hours after the election and discussed, “What next?”

“His views and my views are different,” McFadden said, “but we’re still friends.”

McFadden has been fighting a public battle with ICE and Republican political leaders after an undocumented immigrant committed a high-profile crime. In June an undocumented immigrant was released from the Mecklenburg County jail for a second time despite having a detainer from ICE requesting to keep him in custody.

But last week Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed House Bill 370 would have required county sheriff departments to hold undocumented immigrants for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

McFadden also eliminated solitary confinement and added in-person visitation instead of only video. He said contact visits are being considered, and that few people are aware of the job fairs held inside the detention center.

The breakfast audience jumped in with questions, including ones about ICE.

McFadden was elected last November after running on a promise to end the controversial “287g” program, which kept undocumented immigrants in jail. He has repeatedly stated that he will not honor voluntary ICE detainers, but will honor federal warrants.

What are the ICE procedures in question?

McFadden and other sheriffs have said they don’t want to detain people after they’ve posted bail and met the legal requirements to leave jail. Opponents of Section 287(g) say the detainment violates the Fourth Amendment because an arrest or detainment warrant should be signed by an elected judge, whereas some ICE warrants can be signed by an agency officer.

“Bring me a federal warrant, not a detainer,” McFadden declared at the breakfast.

He said cooperation with the federal agency under 287(g) is voluntary, elective. The sheriff clarified that his office cooperates with ICE in other ways such as courtesy calls, inmate interviews and communication about criminal activity.

Section 287(g) was added to the Immigration and Nationality Act during revisions in 1996. Its purpose: To create partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies “to identify and remove aliens who are amenable to removal from the United States.”

Participation under Section 287(g) is established by an agreement between ICE and the participating law-enforcement agency. After federal training, local officers can perform limited immigration functions.

For example, an agreement allows for local arrestees’ names to be run through a federal database to see if they’re in the country illegally. If so and if the office has an ICE agreement in place, the agency may ask the local jail to detain that person.

The sheriff said it’s his responsibility to protect all people in Mecklenburg County regardless of their status. He and like-minded sheriffs want to follow judges’ orders, just as they do for warrants and bail conditions.

McFadden is a veteran Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Dept. homicide detective with more than 30 years’ experience. He said it won’t help to have people too scared to come out in public, hiding because they fear being taken away or having their family disappear. Likewise, illegal immigrants may be witnesses to crimes—and fearful to come forward if ICE is enforced.

McFadden gave the example of how if an undocumented immigrant was the only witness to a serious crime like the murder of a loved one, everyone would want that person to be able to come into open court and testify to have justice served.

Statistics show that about 78 of 3,000 U.S. counties have an ICE agreement in place. ICE data state how the program in 2018 intercepted convicts: 700 with assault charges, 670 for dangerous drugs, 150 sex offenders, 150 who obstructed justice, 125 with dangerous weapons and 13 people convicted of homicide.

What was the thinking behind the Jetton Road speed trap?

McFadden said the Feb. 17 traffic-enforcement exercise along Jetton Road is the same type performed in every other part of the county.

He faced some local ire after a dozen deputies lined up at Jetton Park and took turns catching speeders. They collectively issued 21 tickets in two hours to drivers who had exceeded the speed limit by at least 10 mph.

Some said, “Good, it’s needed, people speed like demons on that road!” Others said, “What a waste of resources, and (only) for speeding tickets!” Race, class and privilege entered the public discussion.

Cornelius commissioners subsequently invited McFadden to a meeting, saying the Town Hall phone “rang off the hook.” McFadden defended the exercise in the name of public safety. A white commissioner said the sheriff, whose job is indeed public safety, had “some splainin to do.” The remark set an unfortunate tone going forward.

The speed limit on the road is 35 mph.

After two testy public meetings, McFadden and the three mayors of Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville met during breakfast and cut out politics and unified. Mayor Woody Washam of Cornelius said the cooperative spirit between the sheriff’s office and Cornelius Police is working well.

Don’t we need a magistrate here in North Mecklenburg?

The sheriff said the office is “trying” to establish a local magistrate since processing any kind of arrest requires expensive, resource-consuming travel to Charlotte. Huntersville has offered office space for a magistrate, which McFadden said was an excellent idea

How are the local police’s and sheriff’s powers different?

They have the same authority but different jurisdictions.

Does the sheriff’s office profit from speeding tickets?

No; about $9 from each ticket goes to a general law-enforcement fund that does not directly benefit the sheriff’s office.

Tell us about one good and one bad surprise you’ve had since taking office?

McFadden said he has put murderers in jail for 30-something years and never feared for his life and family as much as he does now.

“The threats I’ve had are unbelievable,” he said, explaining that his wife keeps a gun nearby at home.