Gregory Hahn, a veteran and single father, was jailed by Harnett County Judge Charles Gilchrist for refusing to wear a mask during juror training. Gilchrist ordered Hahn to serve 24-hours in jail for contempt, despite there being no mask mandates in Harnett County or the Lillington public government building. Hahn shared his story on Fox News Friday evening, setting off a national outrage over Hahn’s treatment.
Appointed in 2010 by former N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, Gilchrist is the only judge in the county court system that forces people in the room to wear masks.
“Judge Gilchrist’s ruling is outrageous,” Rep. Richard Hudson, R-NC, said in a statement over the weekend. “Even if you agree with the Judge’s perspective on masks, Hahn should have never been arrested. There are other ways it could have been handled.”
Hahn said that a sign posted clearly stated that masks were optional in the public building.
“You can go in any district courtroom without a mask, you can come into superior clerk court without a mask and the district attorney’s office without a mask, but with Judge Gilchrist he has a mandate that you must wear a mask,” Clerk of Court, Renee Whittenton told WRAL.
Hahn was in the courtroom for jury training with 98 other potential jurors. When he refused to mask up, Gilchrist jailed him with no bond.
“The irony of all this is the judge was talking to me without a mask,” Hahn told WRAL. “If safety was such a concern, I go to jail no mask requirements with inmates.”
Hahn, 47, said that Gilchrist also refused to allow him to call his minor son while in the county jail.
“I never thought I’d show up to serve jury duty and end up behind bars, but it happened,” Hahn told Tucker Carlson Friday evening on Fox News. “There was no warning, no requirements going into the courthouse.”
There is no statewide or county mask mandate in place. A county order did say that presiding judges may use their discretion to require masks in the courtroom, but the policy does not suggest jail time for citizens exercising the mask-optional policy, and no notice or signage indicated Gilchrist’s personal requirement.
Hahn said that the 98 potential jurors were together for more than fifteen minutes shoulder to shoulder, most unmasked, before the training began. A bailiff approached him, singled him out, and directed him to stand before the judge.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to wear a mask,’ and he goes, ’24 hours in the Harnett County jail,”’ Hahn recalled.
Hahn said he had not yet been selected for jury duty and he asked to be excused. Gilchrist refused saying in “his” courtroom he was ordering Hahn to be masked. Hahn refused again and was processed, had a mugshot taken, and given an orange prison uniform. He was put in isolation until the next afternoon.
“It just took one person to make a stand, and no one else joined me,” Hahn said. “It is hard doing the right things, and I tell my kids, stand up for what you believe in and don’t be bullied.”
Hahn told WRAL he has not ruled out filing a lawsuit.