Virginia police apologise for arresting black man who called 911 over assault

Pastor was taken away before his white assailants

Spencer Hsu
Monday 15 June 2020 10:26 BST
Pastor was assaulted outside his home in Edinburg, Virginia
Pastor was assaulted outside his home in Edinburg, Virginia (Dr. Leon K. McCray/YouTube)

A Virginia sheriff has apologised to a black pastor who was arrested this month after calling 911 for help when a white family allegedly threatened and assaulted him after trying to dump a refrigerator on his property.

Shenandoah County sheriff Timothy Carter said in a statement that he apologised to Leon McCray Sr, from Woodstock, Virginia, and that prosecutors had dropped a charge of brandishing a licensed handgun in self-defence.

Mr McCray described the incident in a sermon on 7 June at his church in Woodstock, the seat of Shenandoah County, about 100 miles west of Washington DC.

He said he was visiting an apartment property he owns in Edinburg, population 1,100, when he saw a man and a woman who did not live there dragging a refrigerator to his bin. They grew “irate” when confronted, Mr McCray said, and the man left and returned with three others.

Mr McCray said the group surrounded, jostled and threatened him, “telling me that my black life and the Black Lives Matter stuff, they don't give a darn about that stuff in this county, and they could care less and 'We would kill you.' ”

Mr McCray drew a legally concealed handgun, he said, giving him time to call 911. But when sheriff's deputies responded, he said: “I was not given the opportunity to tell what was going on.”

Instead, he was “handcuffed in front of the mob," the members of which were yelling racial epithets and threatening him, Mr McCray said. An officer claimed he had to arrest the pastor for brandishing a gun.

“All this happened on my property,” Mr McCray said. “I said, what about the trespassing and the assault?”

Mr McCray 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.”

Two sheriff's office supervisors have been placed on unpaid administrative leave over the incident, which occurred on 1 June, Mr Carter said.

“As I told Mr McCray, if I were faced with similar circumstances, I would have probably done the same thing,” Mr Carter said in a video and written post on Facebook. “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.”

Mr Carter said Donny Salyers, Dennis Salyers, Farrah Salyers, and Christopher Sharp were arrested and charged with felony abduction and assault by a mob and assault in a hate crime, both misdemeanours. A fifth person, Amanda Salyers, was also charged with misdemeanour assault by a mob and assault in a hate crime, Mr Carter said.

All five, of Edinburg, were held without bond, Mr Carter said.

Attorneys for three of the Salyerses did not immediately respond to telephone and email messages on Sunday afternoon, and an attorney for Farrah Salyers declined to comment.

Mr Sharp's appointed attorney, Bradley Pollock, said Mr Sharp is a tenant of the Salyerses with his baby and the baby's mother, and Mr Sharp thought they had permission to bring a refrigerator to the bins. Mr Sharp said when confronted by Mr McCray, he and Amanda Salyers, who is of no relation, returned the refrigerator to the Salyerses' property two doors down, Mr Pollock said. Mr Sharp said he stayed there and “didn't have anything further to do with anything else”, his attorney said.

Mr McCray, a retired real estate investor and 24-year Air Force master sergeant with no criminal record who has never been arrested, said deputies rushed to judgment in “disarming a black male brandishing a gun against five white individuals, despite my Second Amendment right to defend myself against five attackers that tried to take my life”.

He added: “In my mind, it was totally unacceptable; it would not be acceptable if I was white, and I believe all you know it to be true.”

“Mr McCray met with me on Wednesday, the 3rd of June, and after talking with him about the incident, it was apparent to me that the charge of brandishing was certainly not appropriate,” Mr Carter said.

“I have apologised to Mr McCray, and I appreciate his patience as I have worked through these matters,” Mr Carter said, adding to the minority community in the county, who make up about 1 in 9 of its 44,000 residents, “I continue to support and recognise the importance of your constitutional rights, especially your Second Amendment right to protect yourself and your family.”

In an interview on Sunday, Mr McCray said he appreciated the sheriff's actions and the county for “starting to move in the right direction”, but he noted his charge has not yet been formally dropped.

“When someone does wrong, those in leadership positions should right that wrong quickly, just like they would do if it were them,” Mr McCray said. “I respect and appreciate that charges have been brought against the mob that assaulted me, as there should have been from the beginning. I just want things to change. They must change, and I won't stop until it changes.”

The Washington Post

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