SMITHFIELD, N.C. — The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation and other civil rights groups in the state on Tuesday filed a public records request with the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office in the wake of what they deemed to be racially inflammatory statements from Sheriff Steve Bizzell.
In a Sunday article in the News & Observer of Raleigh, Bizzell talked about his frustration with the changing face of the county where he grew up. Bizzell called Mexicans "trashy" and said the growing Latino population in his county was "breeding like rabbits."
"Everywhere you look, it's like little Mexico around here," the Sunday article quoted him as saying.
The ACLU-NCLF alleges Bizzell’s statements in the article constitute direct evidence of racial discrimination and hostility toward Latino citizens and residents of Johnston County.
The group has asked for public records and documents from Bizzell pertaining to DWI checkpoints, driver’s license checkpoints, arrests, jail bookings and other information that could reveal whether the county has complied with state law prohibiting racial or ethnic profiling by law enforcement.
“Blanket assertions like this about an entire class of people, again despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, if put into practice, are the very essence of racial and ethnic profiling by law enforcement that are prohibited by state law,” said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU in North Carolina.”
The Johnston County Sheriff's Office responded to the request Tuesday afternoon, noting that it had been forwarded to county attorney Ronnie Mitchell.
“Sheriff Bizzell has asked that we handle the matter in the same manner, and according to the same procedures and standards, that we have handled such requests previously,“ Mitchell said.
Bizzell apologized for the remarks on Sunday, saying in a one-paragraph statement that it wasn't his intention to make broad statements that reflected on legal and law-abiding Hispanics. He said his comments, made during interviews for a series of stories, were influenced by his anger over the April death of a boy who was killed by a Hispanic drunken driver who had been convicted before of driving while impaired.
"I obviously let my anger over this crime flash during the N&O interview," he said in his statement. "This is not a reflection on all immigrants, as legal immigration is both wanted and needed."