CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Sheriff Gary McFadden took swift action and now, Jail Support -- a group of volunteers who provide resources to help those leaving the Mecklenburg County Jail -- is no longer camping outside.
Channel 9 was there when deputies dismantled the group’s camp outside the Mecklenburg County courthouse and jail Friday morning, where they had been protesting for months.
According to deputies, five people were arrested during the take down, sparking even larger protests outside the courthouse that blocked traffic along East 3rd Street. Drivers were asked to avoid the area. Video showed a driver going through the protesters and some of them running after it, jumping off the car.
Adrien Hugh was on his way through uptown to make a delivery when protesters blocked him and his truck from going anywhere.
“There’s a right way to do everything. This is not the right way,” Hugh said.
After being dismantled, the group could be seen crowding the front of the courthouse as a line of more than a dozen deputies guarded the building.
Protests were also growing in size at Marshall Park, where they gathered to plan an all-day demonstration. Organizers could be heard telling volunteers not to get arrested because the group does not have the money to bail everyone out.
Jail Support, which is supported by Charlotte Uprising, formed in response to the George Floyd protests in Charlotte. Volunteers provide meals, clothes, bus passes and other items to recently released inmates.
Charlotte Uprising posted a tweet Friday morning saying deputies dismantled the group and forced them to leave without notice. The group asked for donations to get their “friends and volunteers out of jail.”
Sheriff Garry McFadden said Friday’s actions were taken after several conversations with city and county leadership and consultation with District Attorney Spencer Merriweather and members of his staff.
He said people were arrested only because they refused to leave the encampment after being asked by law enforcement. They have been charged with criminal trespass. Deputies said they gathered all the belongings left behind by people who could not take their property with them and it will be returned.
Channel 9 talked to volunteers with the group who said they feel attacked by the sheriff.
“The only thing we have been doing is trying to bridge a gap between the people coming out of jail and the services they do desperately need,” group volunteer Habekah Cannon said.
This isn’t the first time the group has been taken down by deputies.
Last month, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office arrested 43 people after volunteers refused to vacate the area in front of the jail. McFadden ordered the setup to be taken down after he said deputies and visitors to the facility were being harassed.
Channel 9 was there for another protest on July 20, where McFadden said a deputy tried to arrest a man for assaulting a woman. But when Jail Support confronted that deputy, the man and woman ran away.
The group has been camped out on 4th Street at the corner of the entrance to the County Courthouse Plaza and across the street from the Magistrate and Arrest Processing entrance to Detention Center-Central for months. Deputies said since setting up camp, volunteers have been “harassing and intimidating citizens with legitimate business in the adjacent city and county offices, the Detention Center, and the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.”
Deputies said they also verbally attack and target law enforcement officers. In one case, deputies said a volunteer with the group yelled obscenities at two uniformed MCSO Detention Officers and chased them into the Government Center while holding a brick. They said the “threatening individual” then threw the brick at the Government Center cracking a window, before picking up another brick and throwing it at the Government Center shattering the window. The person then ran away.
According to the sheriff’s office, it has had more than 40 incidents connected to the group. Deputies claim volunteers have ripped a “Black Lives Matter” sign, splashed red paint on the jail windows and thrown flyers on the ground outside the detention center reading “This Jail Kills.”
The group is also accused of leaving litter including human waste in public access ways, and on at least two occasions committing sex crimes including Crimes Against Nature on public property.
McFadden, who has been open about his frustrations with the group, said that although he supports the group’s mission, they’re doing more harm than good. He gave a presentation to the county commissioners three weeks ago which showed a list of complaints against the group, including blocking traffic on 4th Street, setting up camp on county property, daily harassment toward visitors and staff and leaving trash at the public handicap ramp.
Volunteers with the group told us it’s unfair for the sheriff’s office to pin the incidents on them.
The sheriff said he has tried to address the volunteers on several occasions, but they have told him there is no one in charge to talk to.
According to McFadden, the sheriff’s office also tries to provide resources to inmates when they’re released, so many of them do not don’t rely on Jail Support.
He also told commissioners that he was concerned about the sanitation at the encampment, but when we asked the health department if they found any evidence of that, they said they had not.
Sheriff McFadden reiterated his position on “Jail Support” in a statement Friday morning:
“I have always been a champion of the residents of our Detention Centers as they re-enter society. Many of these citizens need and deserve assistance to secure even the very basics – food and shelter – let alone job placement, physical and mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and the list goes on. I remain eager to work with anyone or any organization that shares in my passion for providing these resources for our neighbors. If this is – as it should be – what defines “Jail Support,” then I am all for it. But this fine concept of “Jail Support” was sadly hijacked by a number of the individuals who became “regulars” at the encampment on Fourth Street – and who had a different agenda: to be disruptive, belligerent, threatening, harassing, and obstructionist not just to the hard working men and women on my staff and other local law enforcement personnel, but also to civilian public servants and private citizens trying to access the resources in our City and County buildings. It is my hope that the removal of the encampment will allow those with the good intentions of “Jail Support” a fresh start, and I would welcome a meeting with anyone in leadership of that effort so that we might discuss working together in furtherance of our common goals.”
© 2020 Cox Media Group