What the hell is a “biggun” exactly?
That allegedly “racially derogatory” word is part of a lawsuit filed Monday by John C. Hunt, who served as the police chief of Sharpsburg from January 2016 to June 2018, claiming that the eastern North Carolina town’s board of commissioners fired him because he is African American.
And that allegation is just the beginning of the complaint. The rest is pure small-town gold.
The story began one month before Hunt’s termination, when the town’s white incumbent mayor, Randy Weaver, who is white, lost his reelection bid by seven votes to Robert L. Williams Jr., who is black (and had been mayor and a city councilman before). This election was a court-ordered rematch of one in 2017, when Williams prevailed by three votes. Not incidentally, the town’s population of two thousand is 59 percent black.
The seven-vote margin of victory didn’t sit well with Weaver. On the night of his loss, he told two of the town’s commissioners and its mayor pro-tem, “We don’t want a black man in charge,” according to the lawsuit.
The commissioners—Randall Collie and Mary Jackson—and Mayor Pro-Tem Becky Humphrey agreed, according to the court filing.
Collie is the town’s “police commissioner,” though he’s not a certified or sworn officer.
Weaver called Collie later that night to report the new mayor-elect had been drinking.
Collie did not call Hunt. Instead, according to the lawsuit, he called police officer James Bruesche, who is white, to report that Williams had been drinking and was behind the wheel of his white Dodge pickup. Bruesch pulled over Williams that night and charged the mayor-elect, whose blood-alcohol content was reportedly 0.13—the legal limit in North Carolina is 0.08—with drunk driving.
In January, The Rocky Mount Telegram reported that Williams was sentenced to a day in jail, twenty-four hours of community service and two years’ probation.
After his arrest, Williams complained to Hunt—who was rewarded with pay raises in 2017 and 2018, “based upon above-average job performance,” according to the court filing—who initiated an investigation.
Investigators determined that Bruesche lied about the traffic stop. Bruesche reported that he received a “call from a citizen” while he was in a parking lot on N.C. Highway 55, and he activated his lights and siren when he saw the mayor-elect’s pickup truck veer off the road. Buresch did not turn on his body camera during the traffic stop, in violation of police department policy, according to Hunt’s lawsuit.
Hunt concluded that Buresch “had not been forthcoming in his statements in his incident report when compared to the actual video footage” and “had violated several police department policies.” The chief then decided to seek “outside” and “neutral” law enforcement assistance from nearby Bailey police chief Corey J. Bullock.
On May 26, 2018, Buresch stopped Williams again. The officer thought the mayor was driving while his license was suspended for the previous DWI charge earlier that month. Buresch didn’t know that Williams had already told the police chief he’d obtained a limited driving privilege, and the chief had relayed that information to Buresch’s supervisor, Sergeant James Hinson, who is white.
During that second traffic stop, Buresch contacted Hinson “for guidance on how to handle another ‘politically sensitive’ traffic stop,” but Hinson “either failed to communicate” or “intentionally elected to disregard” the police chief’s message that the mayor-elect was allowed to drive, according to the complaint.
Williams contacted Hunt, who ordered Buresch to let the mayor go.
On June 4, the town’s administrator issued a letter to Hunt that “admonished” him about the “political sensitivity” of that second traffic stop and criticized the police chief’s directive to let the mayor go “rather than turn the matter over to a neutral agency,” according to the complaint.
The next day, at Williams’s swearing-in ceremony, someone removed the exit sign and cord in the kitchen of the town hall in an attempt to limit the number of the mayor-elect’s family members and supporters at the event.
On June 6, Hunt met with Hinson and told him he would be disciplined for abandoning his post without permission and failing to supervise his subordinates.
Hinson allegedly refused to listen, and called the chief a “biggun,” which the complaint describes as “a word meant to be racially derogatory and perceived by Chief Hunt as the same.” (For what it’s worth, Urban Dictionary defines the word as “morbidly obese woman who eats junk food … all the time” and “will then moan, complain, and actually cry over being morbidly obese.”) Hinson also allegedly called the police chief a “motherfucker” and told Hunt he was resigning and that he “better stay on his side of Greene County,” where they both live, according to the complaint.
Bruesch also refused to cooperate with Bullock’s investigation of the traffic stops, according to the complaint. He “angrily” walked out of a meeting with Hunt before posting videos and comments of Williams’s arrest on social media.
The town leaders intervened. On June 25, 2018, the board of commissioners decided to rehire Hinson, reimburse him for his back pay, and promote him to the rank of lieutenant. They promoted Buresch to the rank of sergeant.
They also fired Hunt, according to the complaint, because they “assumed, based upon race,” that Hunt “was in some way beholden to Mayor Williams.”
In the complaint, Hunt—who is now retired after thirty years in law enforcement—says he tried to uphold his oath and be fair to all of his officers.
The former chief claims in the filing that he is entitled to in excess of $50,000 because he was wrongfully fired and that the town leaders’ conduct “went beyond all bounds of decency … tolerated by a civilized society.”
The INDY’s calls to Wiliams, town administrator Blake Proctor, and Brian Pridgen were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Contact staff writer Thomasi McDonald at email@example.com.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.