Officers called during altercation between Durham philanthropist, commissioner candidate after Monday’s board meeting

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SILER CITY — A confrontation between Durham entrepreneur Courtney Jordan — who’s to support four Siler City “Unity 2022” newcomers in their efforts to win seats on town’s board of commissioners — and candidate James “Jay” Underwood after the May 2 town board meeting was serious enough to draw police attention. 

Jordan approached Underwood outside the Wren Memorial Library, where the meeting was held, and grabbed his shoulder. In response, Underwood put his hand up to remove Jordan’s hand. 

“He shook my hand, and then he put his hand on my shoulder,” Underwood told the News + Record after the incident. “I don’t know him, and as a former police officer, I told him I don’t like when people I don’t know touch me.”

Underwood said Jordan removed his hand, appearing to be offended, and then walked off to talk to two others present — a woman and a man who had earlier accompanied Jordan to the last few minutes of Monday’s board meeting. 

According to Underwood, Jordan then approached Underwood and threatened him with legal action. 

“He told me I needed to call his lawyer,” Underwood said. “After that, it kind of escalated.”

At that point, witnesses say Siler City Police Chief Mike Wagner, who was at the town commissioner meeting, called two officers on duty to help de-escalate the situation. 

“It was just two people having a difference of opinion,” Wagner told the News + Record. 

In the end, Underwood said he and Jordan were able to resolve their differences and go home without further altercation. 

“We were able to talk it out and move on,” he said. “We were both just hot-headed in that moment.”

Underwood is seeking the at-large commissioner seat against incumbent Cindy Bray and newcomer Dean Picot II. Picot is one of the four unity ticket candidates who have generated controversy after claims of misdeeds against current Siler City leadership and administration, particularly in regard to the town’s finances (see story in this week’s edition). Among other things, some of these candidates have claimed Siler City spent “$50 to $60 million” in March and didn’t properly account for the spending. 

Zell — who has been in Siler City since late March — refuted the allegations made by the four candidates Jordan is supporting during Monday’s board meeting, and provided financial statements and documents showing what the town received and spent in March: $657,532.13 in revenues and $729,971.65 in expenditures. 

Kristen Picot, the executive director of StartUP Siler, provided a different account of the encounter between Jordan and Underwood on Monday evening. 

She said she and another witness were present with Jordan when the incident occurred. Picot said Jordan approached Underwood to introduce himself, shake Underwood's hand and "thank him for his service as a police officer and to the community."

"Mr. Jordan went to pat him on the back, and Officer Underwood grabbed hard on Mr. Jordan’s wrist ... and Officer Underwood explained that the reaction was due to his years on the force and he apologized," Picot said. 

According to Picot, she, Jordan and Andy resumed a conversation they had started before arriving at the board meeting when Jordan made the comment about contacting his lawyer to Picot. 

"That is when Officer Underwood said, 'If you have something to say, you can say it to my face,'" Picot said. "Mr. Jordan (asked), 'What are you talking about,' and Officer Underwood referenced lawyers and Mr. Jordan explained that had nothing to do with him."

Picot said officers who were called to Wren Memorial Library "surrounded Mr. Jordan and Officer Underwood as they spoke to each other about real issues."

Picot said the two men resolved the conflict on their own.  

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com.

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