LOGAN — Hocking County Sheriff Lanny North on Thursday dismissed calls for his resignation by a citizen watchdog group as ludicrous. The group’s demand is based on Facebook postings by the sheriff’s wife, Kathy North, that reportedly contain, among other troubling material, incitements to insurrectionist violence, suggestions that those to her political left are servants of the devil, and endorsements of “white pride.”
“It’s absurd for me to step down over this. I’ve done nothing wrong,” North told The Logan Daily News. “I plan on staying here until the end of my term.”
The call for North to resign was issued Wednesday by Athens County Copwatch, an Athens County-based police watchdog group that was formed last year.
Damon Krane, the group’s communications coordinator, told The Logan Daily News Thursday that the evidence of Kathy North’s Facebook posts, mostly dating from 2019 and later, suggest that she and the sheriff may hold similar views, and that Kathy North exerts some influence over policy in her husband’s office.
“I think what the Facebook posts make clear is, that Kathy North isn’t just the sheriff’s wife,” Krane said. “She has taken a strong interest in police business, and advocated for the very same racist police officers that her husband protected and promoted.” This should be of concern to the public Sheriff North serves, Krane suggested.
The Logan Daily News has been unable to reach Kathy North for comment, either through Sheriff North or via a Facebook message.
To support its allegations, Copwatch has released a compilation of screenshots of Kathy North’s Facebook posts. Krane said these posts were mostly private and viewable only by Kathy North’s 1,300-some Facebook friends. This means that most of the posts distributed by Copwatch could not be independently verified by The Logan Daily News – a problem also encountered by The Columbus Dispatch, which ran a story on the controversy Thursday.
Krane said access to the posts was provided to Copwatch by Facebook friends of Kathy North who saw the posts and “became very concerned with them, and reached out to us.”
Krane said he would contact some of these people to suggest they contact The Logan Daily News directly to verify the posts, but by press time Friday none had done so. In an email message Thursday evening Krane said that “several of the people I reached out (to) told me they feared retaliation from the sheriff and other local right-wing extremists.”
The screen-shotted posts provided by Copwatch do contain material suggestive of racism and right-wing insurrectionism. In many cases the material is from someone else’s post that Kathy North has shared – though presumably this indicates some support or sympathy on her part for the sentiments expressed.
In one recent comment on a friend’s post, North states that “civil war is the only answer against Satan’s Democrats that are ruining our Country.” In a post from October 2020 she declares that “War is coming, sooner or later,” and adds, “You the Government! You are all a bunch of cowards!”
In a January post of her own, labeling Joe Biden “not my president,” North in a comment calls the president “a body with Satan’s ideation and plans to destroy our country.”
In June 2020 she shared one post in which the poster said, “I think Confederate monuments around our country symbolize history and a State’s freedoms from a Federal government,” and another by a different poster that complains that “if (white people) marched for our race and rights, you would call us racists,” and adds, “BE PROUD TO BE WHITE!”
Sheriff North professed to be largely unaware of what his wife posts on Facebook.
“I don’t look at her Facebook page,” the sheriff said. “I don’t have a Facebook page and I don’t read hers either.” He said he had “skimmed over” the screenshots from Copwatch, and supports his wife’s right to express her views. “She has a First Amendment right to post what she thinks and what she feels,” he said.
The sheriff denied Copwatch’s contention that his wife’s expressed views reflect his own, and that the couple, in Krane’s words, “share an overlapping social and professional circle with many more like-minded extremists.”
The sheriff’s response: “That’s not true. They say ‘they,’ meaning her and I both, and that’s not factual whatsoever.”
On the issue of racial bias, Copwatch specifically cites an issue that arose in 2016 in the sheriff’s office, when an audio tape surfaced as evidence in a lawsuit, on which two of North’s deputies, apparently recorded surreptitiously in 2013 by a third officer, can be heard using racial slurs and joking about cross-burning.
Copwatch notes that Kathy North has maintained online friendships with the two officers, who received reprimands and were required to take a cultural diversity awareness course after the tape came to light. Citing the fact that neither officer was fired and one was later promoted, Krane suggested that the evidence suggests the people of Hocking County cannot “trust (the sheriff) to eliminate white supremacist officers from within his department.”
Sheriff North responded that his wife has no say in his office’s personnel decisions or other policies.
“Absolutely not,” he declared. “When I get home at night, I do not talk to her about sheriff’s office business. She has chastised me numerous times that I won’t talk about my job.”
Regarding the 2016 internal case, North allowed as that the comments of the two officers were “unprofessional,” but added that, learning about their racist comments three years after the fact, he was limited in how he could respond to it.
“We addressed that according to what our legal counsel said we could do,” he maintained. “We don’t condone that activity. Never have, never will.”
Krane insisted that the hostility expressed in Kathy North’s Facebook postings and shares have “irreparably compromised” her husband as sheriff.
“The people she’s attempting to instigate illegal violence against are many of the very people her husband is sworn to protect,” Krane argued. “So I think the question is, how can the people of Hocking County trust Sheriff North to protect them from the sheriff’s own far-right, insurrectionist wife?”
Asked what he would say to a county citizen who shared such fears about him, North, who’s held office since 2001, said, “My job is to protect everybody, regardless of their outlook, or their race, or their religion. I took the oath of office to protect the entire community, and I stand by that.”
Copwatch has also called on other elected officials in Hocking County and beyond to join in the call for North’s resignation. One county official contacted by the The Logan Daily News, Hocking County Commissioner Sandra Ogle, a Democrat, declined to do so.
“I think the sheriff’s doing a wonderful job,” Ogle said.
Jim Phillips is the Editor of The Logan Daily News