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W.Va. hunting incident leads to civil rights charges

September 23, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A Jefferson County man has been indicted on three counts of civil rights violations that allege he pointed a rifle at and made racial slurs to a man and his two sons who were hunting on a farm last year, according to Jefferson County Circuit Court records.

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A Jefferson County grand jury Tuesday indicted David Lee Bell Jr., 55, of Route 1, Kearneysville, W.Va., on three counts of wanton endangerment involving a firearm, three counts of violation of the civil rights of another person and three counts of impeding any person engaged in lawful hunting of wildlife.

The civil rights statute under which Bell was indicted was passed by the state Legislature three years ago, a local official said.

Before that, the state had laws protecting minorities from discrimination in the workplace and schools, but there had been no laws protecting people from violence because of their race, according to Jim Tolbert, president of the state chapter of the NAACP.

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The charges go back to Nov. 25, 1998, when Clyde M. Eggleton and his two sons, Conte A. Yates and Clyde M. Eggleton Jr., who are black, were hunting in a field near the intersection of Wiltshire Road and Leetown Pike west of Charles Town. Their ages and addresses are not listed in court documents.

On the day in question, a man later identified as Bell approached Eggleton and his two sons and told them he owned the property, according to a criminal complaint filed by state police Trooper Monte Williams.

Williams' complaint said Eggleton told him the land was farmed by a family named Ware.

"After a little more discussion, the subject eventually leveled the rifle he was carrying on the three of them. While the rifle was pointed at them, the white male subject advised that if they ever came back again, he would shoot them," Williams alleged in the complaint.

The father and sons also alleged that the man told them he did not have any need for black people, and used a racial epithet, court documents say.

At that point, Eggleton told his sons to get in their truck, and as they were doing so, Eggleton reached into his pocket to get his keys, according to the indictment.

"While attempting to get his keys, the male subject, who apparently believed that Mr. Eggleton was reaching for a weapon, encouraged him to pull 'something' out because he had six bullets, one for each of them," according to allegations in Williams' complaint.

Eggleton later called Bell on the telephone and Bell again threatened to shoot Eggleton if he returned, the indictment alleges.

The indictment against Bell alleges that he unlawfully interfered with the right of the three to hunt and a threat of force was made against the them because of their race.

The indictment in part reads: "(Bell) by threat of force did intimidate and interfere with Clyde M. Eggleton in the free exercise and enjoyment of a right and privilege secured to him by the laws of the State of West Virginia, to wit: Wildlife hunting while licensed, and that said threat of force, intimidation and interference was directed at Clyde M. Eggleton because of his race."

Bell, reached at his home Wednesday evening, said the allegations are exaggerated.

"There's a lot of it that isn't right. I think when we get in court, it will all come out the way it should be," Bell said.

Bell said Thursday he owns the land in question.

Tolbert said he believes threats of violence based on race are common in West Virginia, but very few of them are reported.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson would not comment on the case. Thompson has a policy of not commenting on pending cases.

A conviction on a civil rights violation charge can result in a fine of up to a $5,000 and a jail sentence of up to 10 years.

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