Had a good talk via phone this week with a police officer in Washington, DC, who is also a longtime friend about the rash of incidents involving cops and black citizens in America. He tipped me on a problem in rural Shenandoah County, which is close to 100 miles Southwest of the nation’s capital. It has a population of just over 40,000 and lies between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains.
“Seems a black pastor up here used his gun to hold off a group of whites who were threatening him but when he called 911, sheriff’s deputies arrested him and let the whites go free,” he said. “Something smells in the case.”
I found it didn’t just smell. It stinks.
Leon K. McCray Sr., of Woodstock, the county seat of Shenandoah County, a black pastor who retired as a Master Sgt. from the Air Force after 24 years of service to his country, encountered a man and a woman trying to drag an old refrigerator into a dumpster on property of an apartment building he owned in nearby Edinburg.
Dumping appliances into dumpsters is illegal, so he asked the two to leave. Instead, they cursed at him and the man left and returned with three others. He asked them again to leave, saying they were trespassing on his property. Instead, they surrounded him, spouted racial slurs and obscenities, shoved him, and, starting “telling me that my black life and Black Lives Matter stuff, they give a darn about that stuff in this county, and they couldn’t care less.”
McCray said they chanted “We could kill you.”
McCray had a concealed weapon that he had the legal right to carry, so he drew it and held the whites at bay while calling 911 on his wireless phone.
But when deputies arrived, McCray said “I was not given the opportunity to tell what was going on.” Instead, they handcuffed him in front of the group that assaulted him while they yelled racial epithets and continued to threaten him.”
McCray had known one of the deputies for more than 20 years but was told that they had to arrest him for brandishing a gun.
“All this happened on my property,” McCray said. “I said, what about the trespassing and the assault?” He was said he was driven away while the five stood with deputies “waving at me as I go down the road. You think about how disturbing that is. I felt literally like I had been lynched without being killed.”
Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy Carter said what happened disturbed him too. The charge was dropped and two supervising officers are on unpaid administrative leave while the case is fully investigated.
Sheriff Carter apologized to McCray in person and in a video and post on Facebook.
As I told Mr. McCray, if I were faced with similar circumstances, I would have probably done the same thing. I want the people of Shenandoah County to know that I and the sheriff’s office staff appreciate and care about the minority communities, and especially our black community, in Shenandoah County.
Ten days after the incident and humiliation of McCray, Donny Salyers, 43; Dennis Salyers, 26; Farrah Salyers, 42; and Christopher Sharp, 57, were arrested and charged with felony abduction and assault by a mob and assault in a hate crime. The fifth, Amanda Salyers, 26, is charged with misdemeanor assault by a mob and assault in a hate crime, a felony. They were jailed without bond. Amanda Salyers attempted to obtain bond on Jun. 12 but was denied. She appealed but that is pending.
Shenandoah County court records show previous charges by the five, including trespassing, assault & battery and abduction by intimidation. Farah Salyers was fined in 2012 for abusing language.
On the Sheriff’s Facebook page, a long list of comments to his apology and post include many who say he should also resign or, at least, fire the officers involved in the mistreatment of a black citizen of the county.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post editorialized:
At this point, Mr. McCray’s five alleged assailants have been arrested and charged — four with felony abduction and all five with a pair of misdemeanor assaults, including assault in a hate crime. That’s a reasonable step, but why wasn’t it taken at the outset? Sheriff Carter offered assurance that he and his office “care about the [county’s] minority communities, and especially our Black community.” Given what happened to Mr. McCray, how would anyone believe him? What will he do, what will Shenandoah County do, to prevent a recurrence?
Let’s hope a valuable lesson was learned. On Tuesday, the mayor of Richmond fired the police chief after two weeks of problems, including using pepper spray on protestors and an officer driving an SUV through a crowed of bicyclists protesting at the statue of Robert E. Lee.