Sheriff Apologizes for Remarks About Hispanics

Lorenzo Perez, News&Observer (Raleigh), September 8, 2008

Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell apologized this evening for his portrayal of the Mexican immigrant community in today’s News & Observer article about his county’s growing Hispanic population.

The apology came in a one-paragraph statement e-mailed to the newspaper shortly before 5 p.m. after today’s newspaper included a front-page article in which Bizzell criticized illegal immigrants for “breeding like rabbits” and declared, “Mexicans are trashy.”

Tony Asion, the executive director of the North Carolina nonprofit advocacy group El Pueblo, said he had to stop reading the article because the sheriff’s comments made him so angry. Bizzell’s apology was not good enough, he added.

said Asion, who was born in Cuba. “As a 20-year veteran of the Delaware State Police force, I resent the fact that he’s even a cop.”

Bizzell’s comments were made in a series of four interviews conducted over a period of more than a month. In his statement today, Bizzell apologized for making “broad statements that reflected on the legal and law-abiding Hispanic population—that was never my intention.”

Bizzell said the statements he made during the interviews were influenced by a fatal wreck involving a drunken driver last year that dramatically changed his focus. The driver, who had previously been repeatedly charged with drunken driving, struck and killed a Selma boy in April.

“I obviously let my anger over this crime flash during the N&O interview. Since then I have worked with Federal authorities to deport illegal immigrants that commit crimes because these criminals ultimately have a negative impact on all the good law-abiding residents in Johnston County,” Bizzell said in the statement. “This is not a reflection on all immigrants as legal immigration is both wanted and needed. I always have and always will carry out the duties of the Office of Sheriff to protect all the people in Johnston County without regard to where someone is from or their citizenship status.”

Bizzell could not be reached for further comment. A man answering the phone at the sheriff’s home this evening said Bizzell had gone to church.

Until he gave up the post in July, Bizzell was the president of the N.C. Sheriff’s Association. During his term, he helped make North Carolina one of the most aggressive states in the nation for deporting illegal immigrants. Efforts to reach Craven County Sheriff Jerry G. Monette, current president of the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, and other association officers were unsuccessful today.

Speaking from the State Fairgrounds today where El Pueblo was celebrating its 15th annual Fiesta del Pueblo, Asion said Bizzell’s statement of apology does not make up for the prejudice and bigotry revealed in the sheriff’s concern over Johnston County’s changing demographic. Bizzell had said: “Everywhere you look it’s like little Mexico around here.”

“A person elected to represent the entire community should be ashamed of making statements like this,” Asion said.

[Editor’s Note: Sheriff Bizzell’s comments were originally reported in a September 7, 2008, article in the Raleigh News&Observer, “Tolerance Wears Thin,” by Kristin Collins, which can be read here.]


A civil rights group said Tuesday it will investigate a North Carolina sheriff’s office for possible racial profiling after the sheriff said in published comments that “Mexicans are trashy,” and later apologized for making broad statements.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina said its first step was to file a public records request with the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office for documents of traffic checkpoints and arrests. The group wants the paperwork by Sept. 19.

Executive Director Jennifer Rudinger said the request seeks county arrest records since January 2004, jail records, and documents from traffic checkpoints. Eight other groups also joined in the request.

The action comes after Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell apologized for comments he made in an article published Sunday in The News & Observer of Raleigh. {snip}

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