Sharpsburg, NC— The town of Sharpsburg has a law enforcement controversy that has its
citizens divided. Even family members don’t agree. Chief John Hunt has
been in charge of law enforcement in the town for more than a year. Some
residents say that Hunt and his team of officers are abusive, hard to
communicate with and overreach their power. And they say they are
harassed and even jailed for days for just walking down the street, not
breaking any laws.
Other Sharpsburg citizens say Hunt is a hard-working lawman who has
made the community better. They say Sharpsburg is much more livable
with Hunt as chief of police.
Still, other residents complain and say no matter how polite you are, the
police are aggressive. One woman said she was ticketed twice when the
tags on a rental car she was driving was dead. Another woman said she
was tased in her back and neck and lost her unborn child. She said her
tags were legal, but it made no difference.
Hunt said he and his officers only want to keep the peace in the town and
make sure all people are protected. He said car stops are for people driving
without legal tags and no car insurance.

Photography by S. Zachary Knox

“I have been
listening but we have our channels we go through to investigate and then it
goes before the executive committee to vote on,” Dew said. “We will vote
on it Thursday.”
Wilson NAACP President, Ricardo Dew, has been listening to the
complaints from citizens. Dew said he plans to send the information to the
NAACP Legal Redress Committee for further investigation. “I have been
listening but we have our channels we go through to investigate and then it
goes before the executive committee to vote on,” Dew said. “We will vote
on it Thursday.”
Dew said he called Hunt to talk with him about the problems citizens said
they were having but never got a callback. He said when he did get a
chance to see Hunt in person, the meeting didn’t go as well as it could
have. “He ended it by saying the interview was over when I talked about
one topic – towing – but I wasn’t interviewing him,” Dew explained. “He
didn’t give me a chance to talk about any other concerns He never asked if
I had anything else I would like to speak about.”


A few month ago, Deborah Ethridge said her daughter called the police for help
when her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend were having a
disagreement. When police showed up at the residence, Deborah Ethridge
said they told the officer they no longer needed police help. “We told him
that things were all settled and my daughter didn’t need his help,” Etheridge
said. “But he asked if he could see her I.D. My daughter could not find it so
I was helping her.” Etheridge said she does not understand why her
daughter had to have an ID in her own home, and they questioned that.
Etheridge claims that is when things escalated. “That guy didn’t want us to
ask any questions,” Etheridge said. “Why can’t I ask questions to the police
in my house? Is it my house?” Etheridge said the police officer tripped and
fell, but they did not cause that.

Photography by S. Zachary Knox

She said the next thing she knew was that more police cars drove up to
her house and Chief Hunt then got out of the car. “What I can’t get over is
how the police looked at me and said he was going to take me in as well.”
Etheridge said she is 50 years old and had never had any run ins with
police before this incident. “I have never had anything more than a
speeding ticket,” Ethridge said emotionally. “Now I have a record. Chief
Hunt went too far. He is supposed to protect and serve us, not scare us.”
Further, Etheridge said Hunt is abusive in his speech, curses at citizens
and is disrespectful when talking to people on the poorer side of town.
“I think he should be replaced,” Ethridge said. “And some of his officers are
like him – being disrespectful. I have to admit, I am afraid of them. I don’t
know what they would do to you.”


Chief Hunt’s version of the domestic violence story is different. “We went
there for a domestic violence call, but my officer called for backup,” Hunt
said. “That is why I was there. I was on light duty and should not have even
been there. My officer was hollering for backup. He was trying to secure the
male. He was trying to hold off the two females with one arm in the
doorway in the bedroom.”
“In the video, you can see she (the daughter) had
one handcuff on. I was trying my best to be patient with her, she just
wouldn’t cooperate.”- Chief Hunt
Hunt said during the time his officer was at the Ethridge’s home one of his
officers was bitten on the arm by Deborah Ethridge and her daughter
punched his other officer in the face. “There was a video somebody put on
Facebook,” Hunt explains. “In the video, you can see she (the daughter) had
one handcuff on. I was trying my best to be patient with her, she just
wouldn’t cooperate.” Hunt said, “When a person does not cooperate, they will
be put under arrest.”
Hunt said his officers do not put anyone in jail for just walking down the
street. His explanation about the man arrested as he walked down the
street is that police were called to get the man. “He was so drunk he didn’t
know where he was,” Hunt said. “He thought he was at his house and he
was at a lady’s house who called us to come and get him.”


Brenda and Linda Ethridge, Deborah’s sisters, said they like Hunt and feel
as if he is doing a great job. They side with Hunt over their sister. “There is
a difference since Chief Hunt has come here,” Linda Ethridge said. “Folks
just have to follow the law, that’s all. Before he got here there would be gun
fire anytime. You would have to lay down in your house and hope the
bullets wouldn’t come in your house and hit you. There are fewer break-ins.
Things have a way to go but I think things have improved a lot.”
Both Linda and Brenda said after working long hours on their jobs, the last
thing they wanted was to have to duck bullets.
As for their sister’s account of the story, Linda and Brenda don’t believe
Hunt was wrong in the way he and his officers handled that situation.
“I am amazed that Deborah would allow herself to get into any trouble,”
Brenda Ethridge said. “She has never had any problems ever before.”


Linda Virgil, a former elected official for the town and a citizen advocate,
said she is very concerned about what she is hearing from the community.
She said there are elected officials and people who are in charge who are
not working to help people in the community when they ask for help. Virgil
said she believes the police do target young African-American men. “I have
put on clothes that looked like I was a young person to see what would
happen and just walked down the street,” Virgil said. “When I did, police
would ride up to me, but when I turned around and they could see it was
me they would pull on off. I would like to see Hunt replaced.”
Residents who have had problems with Hunt and his officers said they are
coming to the next town hall meeting to let those who run the town know
what has been going on. “I hope they listen and help,” Virgil said. “I hope
they remember it is the taxpayers who vote and pay their salaries.”

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