Local News

Johnston commissioners back sheriff

Posted September 22, 2008 4:34 p.m. EDT
Updated September 22, 2008 5:06 p.m. EDT

— Johnston County commissioners on Monday lined up behind embattled Sheriff Steve Bizzell, indicating they have no intention of seeking his removal over racially inflammatory remarks.

On Friday, 26 civil rights groups sent a letter to the commissioners, demanding Bizzell's ouster. The groups said comments he 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."

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

Bizzell hasn't responded to repeated requests for further comment.

Cookie Pope, chairwoman of the Johnston County Board of Commissioners, issued a statement Monday on behalf of the board, saying that commissioners supported Bizzell's "successful efforts to protect the citizens of Johnston County against crimes."

Pope noted in the statement that Bizzell had apologized, and she called on his critics to let the incident pass.

"As children, we learned that a wound never heals as long as you continue picking at it," she said in the statement. "We are committed to uniting our community, and we expect the forces that would like to divide out community to support our efforts to heal."

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.