NEW HANOVER COUNTY –– A candidate running in the 2022 New Hanover County Board of Commissioners race has filed a complaint against the county health director for allegedly taking her phone from her hand and stopping an ongoing recording.
The health director denies both grabbing the phone and ending the tape.
The alleged incident occurred after the county health and human services board unanimously approved its mask rule Wednesday morning after a lively meeting. Replacing the health director’s previous countywide abatement order, the health rule requires mask-wearing indoors with several exceptions.
Throughout the public hearing, anti-mask protestors heckled county officials. Several were escorted out of the meeting by deputies for speaking out of turn. Health officials sought out the new rule as Covid-19 cases climb and overwhelm the hospital system. In August, 25 residents died from the virus, the highest in a single month since January, the county announced Thursday afternoon.
Libby Dunn, a Republican candidate vying for the board of commissioners, said she approached health director David Howard following the vote to discuss the new rule. According to her account of events, Dunn said she wanted to know under what circumstances the rule’s full ramifications –– being charged with a misdemeanor –– would be applied for not wearing masks.
She said Howard told her he didn’t have time for her after learning who she was. Dunn has been a vocal critic of the mask mandate and other county moves, like increasing property taxes, in public meetings.
“He then snatched my phone out of my hand, stopped the recording, then gave the phone back to me and said, ‘I know you are recording me. This is entrapment,’” Dunn wrote in her grievance, submitted to the county attorney and commissioners Thursday.
Dunn has a two-second video she says depicts the exchange. In the first frame of the video, a hand is visible with a suit and shirt that appears to match Howard’s at the meeting. Fingers are seen in the following frames but do not conclusively identify Howard as the one fumbling with the phone.
The New Hanover County GOP shared Dunn’s Facebook post of the video announcing her grievance Thursday morning.
After consulting with an attorney, she said she tried to file criminal charges against Howard for a simple assault, but the magistrate and district attorney’s office “wouldn’t accept them” since she wasn’t physically injured and he returned the phone. She said they informed her she should instead file a complaint with the county, so she did.
The county manager confirmed receipt of her complaint Thursday morning and forwarded it to human resources. “It will proceed, from here, as a confidential personnel matter,” he wrote to Dunn.
Dunn said she reported the incident because she feels her rights were violated and it reveals Howard’s contempt for those who oppose him.
Complaints lodged against county employees are reviewed by human resources to ensure consistency with county personnel policies, according to county spokesperson Jessica Loeper. “According to Mr. Howard, he did not take Ms. Dunn’s phone out of her hands or stop her recording,” Loeper wrote in an email. The outcome of the complaint proceedings is confidential under state law, according to Loeper.
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