'It's about privilege': Sheriff confronts Cornelius leaders over speeding tickets

CORNELIUS, N.C. — A safety operation, or a speed trap aimed at targeting wealthy homeowners? That was the crux of a sometimes-heated debate Monday between Cornelius town leaders and the Mecklenburg County sheriff.

The tense discussion stemmed from a speed patrol set up along Jetton Road last month.

[RELATED: Cornelius leaders question traffic operation conducted by Mecklenburg County deputies]

Several members of the Cornelius town commission grilled Sheriff Garry McFadden. They wanted to know why 12 Mecklenburg County sheriff's deputies wrote 21 speeding tickets in the span of two hours on a Sunday afternoon.

At the heart of the controversy is where the speeding enforcement happened. Jetton Road is a wealthy, primarily white, lakeside neighborhood in Cornelius, and a stretch of road with a speed limit of 35 mph.

McFadden said he wouldn't have been called before the town commission if the tickets were written someplace else.

[ALSO READ: CMPD checkpoint location leads to fiery debate at City Council meeting]

“We all danced around it already -- it's about privilege. It's about privilege,” McFadden said at the meeting. “It's an African-American sheriff making differences in this city and county. I wasn't welcomed here. I was brought here so you can ask me questions tonight. But I'm still not mad, you know why? Because I have to serve each and every one of you.”

Leaders said residents inundated them with calls about the operation.

During the meeting, there was a lot of back and forth about why that particular area was selected. All agreed that the Sheriff's Office has jurisdiction and authority to enforce traffic laws.

It's not something that has traditionally been a focus, but that's something McFadden said is changing under his leadership.

He suggested Cornelius leaders have their priorities wrong.

“We're concerned about the number of speeders … on a certain road, in a certain side of the city. What message are we really sending?” McFadden asked.

Several commissioners said the purpose of the meeting was not to be confrontational, and that they simply wanted answers.

“Thank you,” said Commission Chair Dave Gilroy. “Sheriff, maybe I can just close on a positive note -- I don't want you to feel disrespected.”

“I think it's too late for that,” McFadden quickly responded.

The sheriff and his deputies said they would make a better effort to communicate with local law enforcement going forward.

On Wednesday afternoon, McFadden held a news conference and said that his department has been doing traffic enforcement for five or six years, long before he took office.

He also said they had been to Cornelius before and doesn’t believe the checkpoint should have been a surprise.

When Channel 9 asked him, he would not address the issue of race directly.

"I was told by some of the people on the council, that when you made that statement it totally caught them by surprise because they saw an enforcement action and they, quote-unquote, didn't see color. How would you respond to that?" Channel 9's Glenn Counts asked.

"That's their opinion," McFadden replied.

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