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Man charged after two-hour police standoff

September 24, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Officers surrounded a trailer near Martinsburg Sunday night after a man inside fired a gunshot into the trailer's ceiling, Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith said Monday.

More than 10 deputies were on hand by the time the standoff, which began at around 8:30 p.m., ended about two hours later. Smith, using a cell phone as he stood in heavy rain, eventually talked the man into surrendering.

James Harold Mercer, 38, was arraigned Monday on one felony count of wanton endangerment. At the time of the standoff, he was free on bail on a felony charge filed earlier this month, stemming from allegations that he failed to pay his wife more than $12,000 owed for child support.

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The standoff began after Mercer's wife, from whom he is separated, called police and said Mercer was acting strangely, Smith said. Deputies Jerry Bradshaw and K.A. Sigulinsky went to Mercer's mother's house in Dodson's trailer park off Grapevine Road, where Mercer was staying.

Mercer was the only one inside at the time, Smith said.

Sigulinsky knocked on the trailer's front door, while Bradshaw watched through a window. The trailer's front porch is small and partially enclosed by lattice, Smith said.

As Sigulinsky knocked, Bradshaw saw Mercer walk past a window inside and was about to warn his fellow officer when Mercer fired one gunshot, police alleged.

Sigulinsky, trying to take cover, backed up and fell, Smith said. Bradshaw, fearing Sigulinsky had been shot, fired one round through the trailer's front door, court records show.

Bradshaw's round did not hit Mercer, and police later found that Mercer had fired a high-powered rifle into the trailer's ceiling, Smith said.

Bradshaw and Sigulinsky retreated and called for backup. Several deputies, including members of the Special Response Team, arrived.

Smith, who was at home watching "Cops" on TV at the time, put on a bullet-proof vest and his gun belt over his plainclothes and drove to the trailer. Officers blocked off the street and evacuated neighboring trailers, fearing a round might penetrate the thin walls if Mercer fired again, Smith said.

After tracking down Mercer's phone number, Smith called him. They talked for from 30 to 45 minutes, discussing various things, including Mercer's personal problems, Smith said.

Eventually, Smith convinced Mercer to turn on a porch light, since it was dark and raining, making for poor visibility. Then Smith convinced Mercer to put down his gun and come out, and Mercer was taken into custody, Smith said.

Afterward, Mercer told police he would not have hurt anybody and that "that was a stupid thing to do," police said.

Inside the trailer, deputies found the .30-30 rifle Mercer fired into the ceiling, along with two other rifles, court records show.

Mercer remained in Eastern Regional Jail on $25,000 bail Monday night.

A conviction on a charge of wanton endangerment carries a prison sentence of from one to five years.

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