Local News

Groups demand Johnston sheriff's ouster

Posted September 19, 2008 2:45 p.m. EDT
Updated September 19, 2008 9:41 p.m. EDT

— A coalition of civil rights organizations sent a letter to Johnston County commissioners Friday demanding that they seek Sheriff Steve Bizzell's resignation for derogatory comments he made about Latinos.

The 26 groups said comments Bizzell made recently to a reporter for The News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh raise serious doubts about his department’s ability to enforce the law without discriminating against Latinos.

In a Sept. 7 article in which Bizzell talked about his frustration with the changing face of the county where he grew up, he 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," he said in the article.

Bizzell later apologized for the remarks, saying his comments were targeted at illegal immigrants and and not all Latinos.

"His demonstrated conduct is unbecoming of a public official, and it conflicts with his sworn duty to uphold justice," the groups said in the letter to Johnston County commissioners. "Blanket stereotypes made by the county’s top law enforcement official are especially alarming because these sentiments are highly likely reflected in the actions of the deputies under his supervision."

Bizzell couldn't be reached Friday for comment.

Organizations who signed on to the letter include: El Pueblo Inc., the North Carolina NAACP, the North Carolina Justice Center, Black Workers for Justice and the Latino Community Credit Union. The Que Pasa Media Network, which operates a Spanish language newspaper and radio station in North Carolina, has also asked for Bizzell's resignation.

Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Wade Stewart said he doesn't think Bizzell should resign over the comments.

The American Civil Liberties Union already has requested records from the Johnston County Sheriff's Office to determine whether deputies have engaged in a pattern of racial profiling of Latinos.

Some county residents think it is time for a change.

“It makes us all look like we are a little backwards and behind and we are not that way at all,” resident Tabatha Koziarz said.

Others think Bizzell shouldn't be made to resign.

Clara Price said Bizzell shouldn’t be made to leave for voicing his opinion.

“The Sheriff is fine. We love the Sheriff here,” Joey Perry said.