County commissioners forgiving, understanding after release of Pierce arrest video

Published 12:10 am Thursday, August 26, 2021

SALISBURY — Commissioner Craig Pierce’s fellow board members are calling for understanding and forgiveness — not his resignation — following the release of his drunk driving arrest video.

Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds said everyone is “battling demons” and that the Board of Commissioners is “united in supporting Craig and helping him where we can.”

“Some are public, and most are private,” Edds said. “And if those with private demons had theirs exposed, it would be just as embarrassing and tragic as this instance. Regardless of who it is and what demons folks are battling, I always hope that instances like this are opportunities for them to improve and get help if it’s needed. Regardless of who it is, we want to support them in getting better.”

The body and dash camera footage from Pierce’s June 27 arrest was released Monday afternoon by the Salisbury Police Department. Superior Court Judge Richard Gottlieb ordered its release after a petition from The Salisbury Post and WBTV. In the footage, which spans more than two hours, Pierce hurls profane insults at officers and threatens to use his political standing and connections to avoid arrest.

“Personally, I think it’s just very sad,” Commissioner Judy Klusman said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t know what to say.”

Since the video was released, Klusman, Edds and Vice Chair Jim Greene said they’ve been contacted by people calling for Pierce’s removal from the board. However, the board does not possess the procedural ability to execute his expulsion.

“I really want people to understand that the commission has no power to force him to resign,” Klusman said. “And because the charges that have been brought against him are not felonies, the only way he would leave the commission would be if he personally made the decision to resign. We’ve all been getting phone calls and emails about him resigning, but that’s the reality.” 

Pierce’s colleagues don’t plan on pressuring him to resign, either.

“That’s a personal decision that Mr. Pierce is going to have to make,” Greene said.

Near the end of body camera footage from police officer H.M. Lindquist, Pierce can be heard bemoaning the makeup of the current board. At one point, Pierce says “doesn’t like the board I’m working with” and that it’s “not what I signed up for.”

Pierce’s fellow board members aren’t taking those insults personally.

“When you’re under the influence, you say some silly things and things you don’t really mean,” Klusman said.

Commissioner Mike Caskey said Pierce has disparaged the board publicly during particularly frustrating board meetings.

“Over the years, Craig has said similar things during meetings when he’s upset,” Caskey said. “I don’t think anything different. I think everybody is ready to work with Craig the way we have before. I think we all think of him as a friend.”

Caskey, a police officer in Mecklenburg County, attributed Pierce’s uncouth behavior shown in the video to an apparent intoxication.

“I’ve dealt with several similar incidents and people are totally different after it’s over,” said Caskey, who has only watched brief clips of the footage. “When people drink, they don’t act normally. It is what it is.”

After being arrested, Pierce blew a 0.27 and 0.26 on two separate breathalyzer tests — both of which are more than three times the legal limit of 0.08.

As for the threats Pierce made to defund the Salisbury Police Department, his peers don’t believe those comments or others will be detrimental to the board’s ability to work with the public or municipalities.

“I think the community and the municipalities know the heart of this board and they know the seriousness of which we approach the community and issues we are faced with,” Edds said. “I don’t believe for a moment that this changes the trust that folks have in this board as a whole.”

Caskey said he believes people will view Pierce’s actions as an “individual mistake” and not a reflection on the Board of Commissioners.

Commissioners also said they don’t believe the incident indicates an underlying issue that has impacted Pierce’s ability to serve.

“I have never smelled alcohol on him or thought that he had been drinking alcohol when he was involved in any county work,” Greene said.

Pierce was first elected to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners in 2012. He won a second and third term in 2016 and 2020, respectively. As a commissioner, Pierce is one of five people who make decisions about county government’s budget, hire and fire the county manager and make other policy decisions.

In the video footage, Pierce told an officer he was driving home after having two glasses of wine at a benefit for “abused children and women” earlier that day. Pierce said the event took place at Morgan Ridge. While there is both a Morgan Ridge Railwalk Eatery & Brewery in downtown Salisbury and Morgan Ridge Vineyard in Gold Hill, the event appears to have taken place at the latter venue because Pierce’s wife, Melissa, told the officer that they were coming from John Morgan Road, where the winery is located.

Amie Baudoin, who owns the restaurant downtown, said she no longer manages the operations at the vineyard and wasn’t on site on the day the incident occurred. The four other county commissioners said they weren’t in attendance at the event.

Pierce is scheduled for a court appearance on Sept. 22. He is currently being represented by Davis and Davis Law Firm.

In the meantime, Klusman is asking the public to show Pierce some “grace.” 

“I think it’s one of those times where people make mistakes,” Klusman said. “We all do.”

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About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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