Sheriff at White House meeting dogged by questions about 'offensive' jokes and controversial comments

White House Correspondent
Yahoo News

WASHINGTON — A controversial North Carolina sheriff who was among 10 local officials joining President Trump at Thursday’s White House meeting on school safety has acknowledged that his officers circulated an email containing an “offensive” joke about Narcan, the lifesaving drug used to reverse opioid overdoses.

Charles McDonald, the sheriff of Henderson County, has also faced questions about his spending and comments he made about anti-Trump protesters last year. He was sued by a former deputy for discrimination last month.

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McDonald acknowledged in December that his officers had circulated an email, part of an internal analysis of crime statistics, that showed a syringe and the legend: “Narcan: Robbing Darwin of his bountiful harvest since 1971.”

After a local TV station publicized the memo last December, McDonald put out a statement that called it “a tasteless attempt at humor.”

“Regarding the offensive slide, there is no excuse for it regardless of the intention,” the sheriff said. “I’m told it was an attempt at dark humor, but it was in no way humorous, and I know it does not reflect the true heart of the actual sender, or that of our staff and volunteers.”

McDonald acknowledged a lapse in judgment in his department, according to local news accounts, and said it had been “dealt with appropriately according to our policies and guidelines.” It isn’t clear from the accounts when McDonald became aware of the joke, which originally circulated last May.

That was not the first time McDonald, who became sheriff in 2012, has courted controversy. Last February, a monthly newsletter on his sheriff’s office website, “The Guardian,” described participants in the Women’s March against the incoming Trump administration as anarchists and questioned their right to protest.

“‘Rule of Law? We don’t need no stinking law!’ This seems to be the message of those ‘protestors’ destroying businesses and property while restricting free speech and interfering with the rights of fellow citizens to peacefully drive or walk on public streets or byways,” McDonald wrote. “What entitles them to scream vulgarities and to physically attack and ridicule those who dare question their myth-based, passion-inflamed, anarchist ideology?”

“I believe many of the vile and disgusting protests that are taking place across our nation are not a result of the differences between America’s traditional political parties. Rather, they appear to be the result of an anti-American social progressive movement with the goal of subverting our great Republic and replacing it with something akin to the social economic governance that continues to decimate Western Europe to this day,” McDonald wrote.

“I believe that many in this nation from all parties awoke at the last moment and saw the face of the beast that was poised to consume us all,” McDonald wrote, apropos of the 2016 presidential election.

Earlier this year, a former Henderson County deputy sued McDonald for allegedly discriminating against him as a disabled veteran. McDonald has also faced local opposition for firing county officers soon after taking office and for his spending. Though McDonald’s own website boasts that Henderson County has the lowest crime rate in North Carolina for a community of its size, he sought $20 million for a law enforcement training center and purchased armored vehicles that he has posed with in promotional materials.

The White House did not respond to an email from Yahoo News to ask if officials were aware of McDonald’s remarks before he was invited to be one of the local leaders participating in the meeting with the president. McDonald also did not respond to a request for comment.

A crowd fills the streets of Washington during the Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017. (Photo: Oliver Contreras/For the Washington Post via Getty Images)
A crowd fills the streets of Washington during the Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017. (Photo: Oliver Contreras/For the Washington Post via Getty Images)

McDonald addressed what he described as a “firestorm” of criticism that erupted in response to his comments about protesters in the March 2017 edition of his newsletter. The sheriff claimed that he did not intend to refer to peaceful protesters in his comments.

“I wrongly assumed that the fact that I referred to violence and the disregard for the rule of law would make it clear that I was not referring to those who protest peacefully and with respect. That, however, was not the case,” wrote McDonald.

While the protests against Trump were largely peaceful, there were instances of violence and vandalism, and more than 200 people were arrested in the nation’s capital during the inauguration festivities.

“I have said repeatedly as a sheriff, particularly one who fully values and believes in our Constitution, I not only support their right to protest, but I am sworn to protect it! I never said or meant to imply that the protests in our county were anything other than peaceful,” McDonald wrote.

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