Controversial immigration jail policy could end as Mecklenburg sheriff concedes race

Incumbent Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael conceded the sheriff's race Tuesday night as former Charlotte-Mecklenburg police detective Garry McFadden cruised to an easy win. The result signals the end of a controversial immigration program in the county's jail.

McFadden had about 52 percent of the vote with all precincts reporting.

Carmichael, who was in last place with about 20 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, conceded just before 10 p.m. City human resources manager Antoine Ensley was in second place, with about 28 percent of the vote.

McFadden is virtually guaranteed a four-year term as Mecklenburg County sheriff. No Republicans are running.

The sheriff's primary race attracted national attention as a referendum on immigration, because the candidates were split on the jail's controversial 287(g) program.

Carmichael mug
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael conducts a press conference on Tuesday, March 13, 2018, at the Stancil Center. David T. Foster III Observer Archive

Carmichael has supported the program, which involves screening everyone arrested in the county to see whether they are here illegally. Under the program, an arrest can send people without documentation into deportation proceedings — whether they've been charged with a violent crime or a minor offense.

Fewer than 60 jurisdictions in the United States participate in 287(g), which has been used in Mecklenburg County since 2006. More than 15,000 people have been processed for deportation after an arrest in Mecklenburg County since the program began.

McFadden and Ensley said they would end the 287(g) program.

Carmichael argued that 287(g) keeps jail staff and the county's residents safe. Without it, he said, he wouldn't know who's in the jail. He said none of the area's police chiefs have told him the program is reducing community trust.

McFadden said the program hurts relationships between law enforcement and the community.

Anotine Ensley
Antoine Ensley Courtesy of Antoine Ensley

Carmichael raised more money than Ensley or McFadden, according to reports released close to primary day. He raised $180,000 through the first quarter, while McFadden pulled in $66,600 and Ensley raised $11,500.

Late in the race, the nonpartisan American Civil Liberties Union spent $175,000 on ads criticizing Carmichael's positions on 287(g) and solitary confinement.

McFadden opposed solitary confinement and said he'd try to bring back in-person visits for inmates' friends and families, which ended when a new video system was installed in 2016.

McFadden stood out from Ensley and Carmichael by refusing to release his full public personnel record from his tenure as a CMPD detective. Ensley and Carmichael both authorized the release of their records.

The police department did release a portion of McFadden's CMPD records, which showed three suspensions between 1984 and 1999. One of them, a 30-day suspension in 1988, drew media attention at the time.

According to a news report at the time, McFadden was outside an east Charlotte grocery store when he saw two people with guns leaving the store with a cart full of groceries. He drew his gun and followed them to their car.

A passenger in the car grabbed his wrist as the car took off, dragging him. Police said shots were fired as the car sped away.

Details weren't available for his other two suspensions. McFadden said opponents would twist his record if he released it in full.

"I know the game they're playing," he said Friday. "I'm not playing with them. ... This is a distraction. This is something they have conjured up."


Irwin Carmichael: 20.36%

Antoine M. Ensley: 27.47%

Garry L. McFadden: 52.17%

All precincts reporting