LILLINGTON, N.C. — A Harnett County man who showed up for jury duty on Monday ended up behind bars after refusing to wear a mask in the courtroom.
Judge Charles Gilchrist booked Gregory Hahn, 47, without bond after Hahn told the judge he wouldn’t wear a mask. Hahn was jailed for contempt of court.
“There were signs saying no masks were required,” Hahn told WRAL News. “We all walked in.”
Hahn was with 98 others ready for day one of juror orientation.
“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,” said Clerk of Superior Court Renee Whittenton.
Whittenton said Gilchrist is the only superior court judge in the county with a mask mandate.
WRAL News has reached out to Gilchrist with a request for comment, but have not heard back.
“The irony of all this is the judge was talking to me without a mask,” Hahn said. “If safety was such a concern, I go to jail no mask requirements with inmates.”
However, Whittenton provided a written statement saying each juror was advised of Gilchrist’s requirement to wear a mask at check in. Each juror was provided a mask to wear too, Whittenton wrote.
A joint order dated March 10, 2022, issued by Harnett and Lee counties states:
- Masks are optional in the hallways, foyers, restrooms, meeting rooms and similar areas
- The presiding judge in each courtroom may decide, in their discretion, whether masks are required in the courtroom
- The ranking official in each courthouse agency (for example the Clerk of the Court, District Attorney, etc.) shall determine in their discretion, whether masks are required in their respective offices
- Any person who chooses can wear a mask
- The order is subject to revision based on public health conditions and guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
No potential juror was made aware of Gilchrist’s mandate before Monday’s orientation, Hahn said. It wasn’t listed on the summons Hahn received. The courthouse also does not have signs requiring masks.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to wear a mask,’” Hahn said. “He said, ‘I understand you don’t want to wear a mask,’ and I said, ‘That is correct, sir,’ and he says ‘why?’”
Hahn said Gilchrist asked him again if he would refuse to wear a mask in the courtroom. Again, Hahn said he wouldn’t wear one.
“[Gilchrist] said ‘24 hours in the Harnett County jail,’” Hahn said.
Within minutes, Hahn was handcuffed, had his mugshot taken and jailed under no bond for contempt of court.
“I never thought this could happen in this country,” Hahn said.
Hahn said he asked the judge to excuse him since it was one day in jail.
Hahn told WRAL News that Gilchrist said, “I could, but I’m not going to.”
Public records show Hahn has only gotten a speeding ticket.
Hahn is a single father. He said he asked Gilchrist if he call his son at home. Gilchrist also refused, Hahn said.
“I was dumbfounded,” Hahn said. “I felt it was bullying.”
Hahn explained what it was like to spend 24 hours in jail.
“It was the worst 24 hours of my life,” Hahn said. “I have been through a lot.”
Hahn said Gilchrist brought his personal beliefs into the courtroom.
“I’m im jailed for doing my civic duty and not doing anything,” Hahn said. “It’s mind-boggling.”
When WRAL News asked Hahn if he’d consider filing a lawsuit, he said it is not out of the question.