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Hate crime alleged in Jefferson

September 26, 2000

Hate crime alleged in Jefferson



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The local chapter of the NAACP is asking the FBI to investigate as a hate crime an incident three weeks ago in Jefferson County in which an African-American man alleged that racial slurs were made and a gun was fired into the air.

Although police have arrested one man in the incident, about five other people were involved, said George Rutherford, president of the Jefferson County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Rutherford said other people who were with the man who was charged should have been charged by now with being accessories to the crime. He called the Jefferson County Sheriff's investigation of the incident "sloppy."

On Monday, Rutherford sent U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno a letter requesting that the FBI investigate the Sept. 4 incident at a Texaco station along U.S. 340 north of Charles Town.

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Rutherford said the Sheriff's Department appears to be taking a "nonchalant position" on the case, which he said gives all citizens, especially minorities, reason to be concerned for their safety.

Sheriff William Senseney defended his department's work on the case, saying it was conducting a thorough investigation.

"Police work, when you watch it on TV, it all happens in an hour. And that's not how it works in real life," Senseney said.

The incident began when Derrick Berry, who is black, walked to the Texaco station, Senseney said. When Berry reached the station, he and a group of white children began yelling at each other, Senseney said.

Berry found someone to give him a ride from the area because he was concerned about his safety, according to Rutherford and Senseney.

As the car left the station, two tow trucks pulled around the car and blocked it in, Senseney said. A man stepped out of one of the trucks, approached the car Berry was in and pointed a gun at another person in the car, according to Rutherford and Senseney. The man then pointed the gun at Berry, Rutherford said. At some point, the gun was fired into the air, according to Rutherford and Senseney.

The driver of the car Berry was in got away from the gas station, Rutherford said.

Brian Hanna of Ranson, has been charged with wanton endangerment, Senseney said.

Hanna, who was a member of the Independent Fire Co. in Ranson at the time, has since been placed on suspension, said Independent Fire Co. Chief Ed Smith.

Rutherford said there were about six people in the tow trucks that stopped the car Berry was riding in. One of the men said he was affiliated with the "Aryan Nation," and racial slurs were used , Rutherford alleged

"The branch, as well as many citizens, believes law enforcement officials should take aggressive action to strongly discourage these assaults on individuals simply because of their race. Since this has not been the case, the branch will request federal intervention immediately," Rutherford said.

Senseney said he is treating the case as a hate crime.

Although Rutherford said he is not satisfied with how quick the Sheriff's Department was progressing in the case, Senseney said his department is doing an admirable job. An investigation into the incident was continuing, and the department had consulted Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson to determine how to proceed, Senseney said.

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