Sheriff apologizes for Hispanic slur

Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell apologized Sunday for his portrayal of the Mexican immigrant community in a 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. Sunday after that day's newspaper included a front-page article in which Bizzell criticized illegal immigrants for “breeding like rabbits” and declared, “Mexicans are trashy.”

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

“I don't want his apology, I want his badge,” 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 Sunday, 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.”

Until he gave up the post in July, Bizzell was the president of the N.C. Sheriffs' Association. During his term, he helped make North Carolina one of the most aggressive states in the nation for deporting illegal immigrants.