CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Garry McFadden was voted Mecklenburg County's next sheriff Tuesday in one of the most anticipated races on the ballot.
McFadden, a retired Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department homicide detective, defeated incumbent Irwin Carmichael and former police chief and current city of Charlotte human resources program manager Antoine Ensley.
"I want to change the city to bring unity," McFadden said to his supporters after his victory. "I want to change this city to bring inclusiveness. And we're going to have to talk about race. And someone said, 'Is that the job of the sheriff?' Well, that's the job of this sheriff."
McFadden won by more than 25 percent of the vote.
Carmichael conceded the race in a speech while trailing in third place, more than 30 percentage points behind McFadden.
The race drew national attention and the candidates had widely different views on several divisive issues.
Carmichael was the first-term incumbent and he spent election day going to the polls making a last-ditch effort to encourage people to vote for him.
Carmichael saw this election as more than just a vote for or against him. He saw it as a referendum on the 287(g) program, which allows law enforcement agencies to determine the immigration status of anyone they come across.
Carmichael said he needs the program to identify dangerous people in the jail. Critics say it's unnecessary and most jails don't do it.
"It comes down to the issues and there is a lot of false information that's being put out there, like 287(g) is a national subject and nothing in Mecklenburg County has changed in 12 years,” Carmichael said.
McFadden had staked out a position opposing the 287(g) program and was touting his experience in law enforcement as a career officer and detective with the police department.
He also spoke a lot about his experience working in the community, where he has been very visible since he retired.
But in the last several weeks of the campaign, he drew criticism from some within the African-American community, including the president of the Charlotte NAACP, over his record as a police officer.
He acknowledged that the issue has been a challenge for him.
“I welcome that conversation, if we can straighten that out, but I'm here to run a race,” McFadden said. “I'm here to focus on voters and that's what I'm going to do.”
The Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office has participated in the federal 287(g) program since February 2006.
Every person arrested in asked two questions: What country are you a citizen or a national of and where were you born? Depending on the response, if a person is found to be in the U.S. illegally, unlawfully or without documentation, he or she will be interviewed by a 287(g) deputy. Deputies will then use a federal database to conduct a background check and determine whether the individual has a criminal history. The Sheriff's Office does not make deportation decisions.
Carmichael said the program is vital for the safety of the jail and the community.
"287(g) is a tool that we use to identify who comes in our jail," Carmichael said. "If a person commits murder in another country, the only way we are going to know that is to have this 287(g) program.
According to stats provided by the Sheriff's Office, the top three charges for inmates with a 287(g) hold who were booked in fiscal year 2017 were driving while impaired, assault on a female and indecent liberties with a child.
"DWI is serious. Assault on a female is serious. Indecent liberties is serious," Carmichael said. "It's about keeping the community safe, my facility safe and my officers safe. Because we have this program, (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is going to remove them from this country because they are here unlawfully and they are committing serious crimes."
McFadden opposes 287(g) and wants to pull the county out of the federal program potentially on day one.
"I am absolutely opposed to 287(g)," McFadden said. "287(g) does not help us in this city. It does not help us bridge the gap and mend the wounds that our Latino, our Asian, any other immigrant community has."
McFadden told Channel 9 that he does not believe someone should be deported because they are accused of driving while intoxicated. He said, as a homicide detective, the program hindered his investigations and he does not believe it makes the community safer.
"If it was such a good idea to keep cities safe, then every city would jump on the bandwagon," McFadden said.
In 2016, the Sheriff's Office changed its visitation policy and implemented video visitation. The policy eliminated the requirement for people to travel to the jail to visit their loved ones. At first, each inmate received one free video call a week. Inmates can then have unlimited contact with their family members but additional visits cost money. Earlier this year, the sheriff changed the policy to allow two free video calls a week. Each inmate pod has a video visitation hub where inmates can communicate with their families at their convenience.
McFadden is in favor of keeping video visitation but also wants to add in-person visits.
"We are going to have person-to-person contact," McFadden said.
Such contact has never existed in the jail, according to Carmichael.
He said, if in-person visits were to be implemented, safety would decrease and the amount of contraband coming into the jail would increase.
"There is so much opportunity to introduce contraband and that is the last thing you want," Carmichael said. "When you start allowing in-person visits like this, it is very risky to other officers and inmates."
Before video visits, Carmichael said, families had to come to the jail, pay for parking and talk to their loved ones through glass. Video visitation is popular with inmates because they can talk to their families whenever they want, the sheriff said.
"If you want to see your loved ones more, every day, you can," he said.
McFadden said safety will still be a priority but he does not think in-person visits would dramatically jeopardize deputy safety. He said he will have extensive discussions with staff on how to properly implement the changes.
"The deputies are inside a closed facility. Sure (the contraband) probably increases but we can modify where we can decrease it. We want our deputies safe so we can get them back to their families," McFadden said. "We are going to assess the safety and rebuild the whole facility but we want that personal interaction with the family."
Carmichael said there is misinformation about the jail's Disciplinary Detention Unit. The sheriff said the cells in the DDU are exactly the same as the cells in which inmates stay when they are part of the general population. Inmates in the DDU have contact with a human at least four times an hour and have access to their homework, the library and mental health resources. Carmichael said the only way someone automatically ends up in DDU is if he or she attacks an inmate or deputy.
"If you have two (who) keep fighting, you have to separate them," Carmichael said. "If you have two people assaulting officers, you have to separate them.”
Carmichael said activists incorrectly said youth offenders are locked up for 23 hours without human contact. He said the county's DDU is a national model for agencies in the country and there is a process for inmates to transition out of it.
"There is a stepdown program. They are going to have a hearing and they know exactly what they have to do to get back to housing," he said.
McFadden isn't sure locking an inmate in DDU is the proper way to handle an assault or fight.
"I think we talk about punishment too much," McFadden said. "I think we should talk about resources. If this guy has a behavioral problem and all we do is put him in a cell and close the door, are we talking about the problem or are we modifying the problem or are we increasing the problem when he comes out?"
McFadden said, if he is elected sheriff, he plans to talk to former DDU inmates and staff members to determine the future of the unit. He said issues will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
"I am opposed to solitary confinement," McFadden said.
Carmichael provided Channel 9 with his personnel files.
"I am transparent. I have been for years," he said. "If you want to be the sheriff of Mecklenburg County, you need to be fully transparent."
The files revealed that, during Carmichael's three-decade career, there were no violations or records of discipline.
Carmichael's fire contains close to 1,000 pages. Most of them were thank-you notes written about him,
The question of personnel fires was raised by activists at a recent candidate forum after a video surfaced, causing them to question McFadden's actions during a controversial shooting in the late 1980s.
Activists have questioned McFadden's involvement in an officer-involved shooting in 1988. According to the Charlotte Observer, McFadden, who was 28 years old at the time, was about to go off duty at a supermarket when a customer told him two armed people had stolene a cart of groceries. While trying to stop the suspects, McFadden fired several shots and the suspects shot back. He was also dragged alongside their car. Two months after the shooting, he was cleared of any charges.
"The only reason that case came up is they tagged the word(s) 'unarmed black male' (in the video,) which, that is all you have to say to infuriate or get the community attached to a case," McFadden said. "They were not black males. They were all white."
McFadden said his involvement in the shooting isn't an issue because he later went on to be successful in the Sheriff's Office, earning promotions and being called frequently as a witness for officer-involved shooting cases.
Because of inaccurate statements, McFadden said, he is not going to release his personnel record. McFadden also believes that, if he were to release his record, activist groups would misrepresent it.
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