Crime & Courts

Black belt put Irwin Carmichael on path to seek Mecklenburg County sheriff’s badge

First in a series

On a 1997 front page of The Charlotte Observer, there’s a picture of Henry Louis Wallace, Charlotte’s most notorious serial killer, being escorted to prison.

Standing behind him in that picture is Irwin Carmichael, a captain with the Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office who made it through that and other high-profile transports and is now running for sheriff.

Carmichael faces Antoine Ensley in the Democratic Primary on May 6. Early voting starts April 24.

The foundation for that ride with Wallace was laid decades earlier when a 10-year-old Carmichael got tired of being bullied and began to study Kempo karate. Now he’s a ninth-degree black belt and owns three full-time Kempo karate schools in the Charlotte area.

He’s worked as a reserve deputy with the Sheriff’s Office as well as a firefighter for the past two decades. In the Sheriff’s Office, he mostly showed other officers how to subdue inmates such as Wallace, who Carmichael said told him that he let his weight balloon to 300 pounds so he would be harder to subdue if agitated.

He has also taught fighting techniques to police officers across North Carolina and as far away as Australia. He’s authored a book on women’s self-defense, and gives lectures on personal protection across the county.

“Over the years, I’ve spoken to over 100,000 people from all over,” he said. “My whole goal was to at least make a difference for one person. ... All I want to do is plant the seeds and hopefully, they’ll stay safe.”

Sheriff Chipp Bailey, who announced he was retiring in November, mentioned the classes and lectures in an endorsement for Carmichael last month. Carmichael is also the fundraising leader, according to campaign finance reports. He’s raised $53,655.53 this election cycle.

As sheriff, Carmichael said he would emulate many of Bailey’s programs and priorities, but he said he would bring a businessman’s eye to try to squeeze more out of the sheriff’s budget.

In particular, he wants to lower the number of people who end up in jail over and over again.

He specifically wants to put a microscope on the jail’s education and vocational programs – carpentry, GED, horticulture – to see if they can be tweaked to help lower the recidivism rate. He also wants to see what improvements can be made to the jail’s substance abuse program.

“I don’t want to build more jails,” Carmichael said. “I want to clear the jails. And how we’re going to clear them is by these programs and working together. ... I want to look at and evaluate the programs and see what works and see if there is a little bit of tweaking that needs to be done.”

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