Marshall – Updated March 23rd, 2022
The Madison County Board of Commissioners sent a clear message after hearing from residents who showed up to support Madison County Sheriff Buddy Harwood and his department. Once the public spoke, the commissioners promptly voted a support resolution for the sheriff and law enforcement of the county.
Over 100 people showed up at the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday night (June 9) to voice that strong law enforcement is vital to the peace and safety of the county. Law enforcement organizers ensured a good turnout from residents by holding a drawing for an AR-15 and concert tickets before the commissioners’ meeting. However, only four people spoke at the public hearing.
Support for law enforcement
Skyline reporter Chad Nesbitt, who was the first speaker, told the commissioners, “I want to tell why it’s important to get behind your law enforcement here…you got to break the boundaries of Democrat versus Republican; because it’s not about this right now.” He continued by talking about the loss of officers demoralized by the loss of support from the local government in the City of Asheville and Buncombe County. He said symptoms of the same movement appear to be in Madison County. He called out two groups he says are behind the movement against law enforcement – Downhome and Sunshine Movement.
“I want you to know if we don’t get behind our law enforcement, we are looking at an epidemic right here in Madison County just like we are in Buncombe County.” When Nesbitt finished, those at the meeting gave him a round of applause.
Next to speak was Rick Tullis, with the Southern States Police Benevolent Association. Tullis told the commissioners, “I’m here to say thank you to Commissioner Garrison and the commissioners for the resolution you are about to consider.”
He reinforced the account presented by Nesbitt, saying it is becoming a “travesty all over the county. But it is definitely hitting us hard locally.” He added that it is “…vitally important that deputies and police officers feel like they have the support of their government entities.” He also received applause when he finished.
Next to speak was Rondell Lance, area chapter president of the Fraternal Order of Police, who spoke about the officers’ lives already lost this year, not only to crimes but to suicide.
“This is serious business in supporting law enforcement because they are out there keeping me, keeping you safe! And it’s very important we support them.” Lance urged the commissioners, “Don’t let Marshall become Asheville. Don’t let Madison County become Buncombe.”
Lance said he believes in just a few years Asheville Police Department will be “dissolved.”
Finally, Brian Coats, a local pastor and resident of Madison County, spoke from a biblical basis. Coats said that need for police dates back to the garden of Eden using God, as law and order, who showed up to question Adam and Eve and handed down sentencing for their crime.
“We must have law enforcement. History proves its necessity,” Coats said.
The support resolution
After the public comment, Chairman Mark Snelson asked Commissioner Michael Garrison to read the minutes of the resolution which conveyed “public support and gratitude” for law enforcement.
“We recognize the positive impact that the personal sacrifice has in creating an unparallel safe and enhance the quality of life within our rural mountain community,” Garrison read.
The resolution was seconded by Matt Wechtel, and the rest of the board voted in agreement.
The Tribune spoke to Sheriff Harwood after the meeting and asked how he felt about the vote.
“I think it’s awesome. It’s another step showing our commissioners’ support of law enforcement and I think it’s fantastic,” Harwood told the paper.
He said he had made it clear that if people want to become part of the county, come join us, but “I spoke a clear message earlier that Madison County doesn’t want any part of Asheville. If you want to come to Madison County and live and be a good citizen, that’s all well, but we don’t want your ideology. We don’t want you coming into our county trying to change things. It’s worked good for 100 years and why change it now.”
It seems the crisis of support came when Harwood hired a former Asheville Police Department officer, Anthony Sorangleo. APD fired Sorangleo even after being cleared by several boards and the legal system of any wrongdoing in a claim of simple assault against him.
Down Home asked to respond
According to those supporting the police, the condemnations of the hiring of Sorangleo came from Down Home Madison, a left-leaning group that’s part of a nationwide organization but claims local roots.
A press release from Downhomenc.org, on June 23, 2020, clearly states the group is out to change the county’s social and political makeup. “Down Home is a grassroots organization building multiracial power for poor and working people in rural North Carolina. For the last six months, local members were going door to door talking to their neighbors about what local issues they find most pressing and soliciting their ideas for change.”
The Tribune reached out to Darlene Azarmi of Down Home Madison County to ask: “If she could confirm or deny that their members were voicing concerns to the county commissioners about Sorangleo? If so, was it done by members acting as individual residents, or if that is the position of your group? If so, what are the concerns about the officer?
“If your group has a position on the resolution passed by commissioners last night in support of the county’s law enforcement agencies?
When asked if there is any other information about your group you’d like our readers to know?” As of press time, she did not respond to the Tribune’s request, but on December 4th Azarmi contacted the Tribune to say that she never received the email because her last day with the organization was May 15, 2021 and that her email was no longer active. For the record the Tribune never received a bounce back from the email we sent.