Pastor Leon K. McCray. Picture: Facebook
Pastor Leon K. McCray. Picture: Facebook

Virginia sheriff apologises to pastor after his 911 call led to his arrest

By Spencer S. Hsu Time of article published Jun 15, 2020

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A Virginia sheriff has apologized 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 Friday that he apologized to Pastor Leon K. McCray Sr. of Woodstock, Va., and that prosecutors dropped a charge against McCray for brandishing a licensed handgun in self-defense.

McCray, 61, described the incident in a June 7 sermon at his Lighthouse Church & Marketplace Ministries International in nearby Woodstock. Woodstock is the seat of Shenandoah County, about 100 miles west of Washington in the Shenandoah Valley between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains.

McCray said he was visiting an apartment property he owns in Edinburg, when he saw a man and a woman who did not live there dragging a refrigerator to his dumpster. They grew "irate" when confronted, McCray said, and the man left and returned with three others.

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.' "

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, McCray said. 

An officer whom McCray said he has known for more than 20 years told him he did not agree with the order but had to arrest McCray for brandishing a gun.

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

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 June 1, Carter said.

"As I told Mr. McCray, if I were faced with similar circumstances, I would have probably done the same thing," 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."

Carter said 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, both misdemeanors. A fifth person, Amanda Salyers, 26, was also charged with misdemeanor assault by a mob and assault in a hate crime, Carter said.

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

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

Sharp's appointed attorney, Bradley G. Pollock, said Sharp is a tenant of the Salyerses with his baby and the baby's mother, and Sharp thought they had permission to bring a refrigerator to the dumpster. 

Sharp said when confronted by McCray, he and Amanda Salyers, who is of no relation, returned the refrigerator to the Salyerses' property two doors down, Pollock said. Sharp said he stayed there and "didn't have anything further to do with anything else," his attorney said.

McCray, a retired Alexandria, Va., and Baltimore real estate investor and 24-year Air Force master sergeant with no criminal record, 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."

Carter said Dennis Salyers and Donny Salyers were initially charged with assault and battery, and Amanda Salyers and Christopher Sharp were initially charged with trespassing, before the office obtained warrants for the more severe charges Thursday night. The investigation is ongoing, Carter said.

"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," Carter said.

"I have apologized to Mr. McCray, and I appreciate his patience as I have worked through these matters," 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 recognize the importance of your constitutional rights, especially your Second Amendment right to protect yourself and your family."

In an interview Sunday, 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," 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."

Washington Post

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