Man convicted of violating family's civil rights must sell property

February 24, 2011

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A man convicted of violating a black family's civil rights after being accused of trying to force them from their Falling Waters, W.Va., home must sell the property where he once lived.

The Berkeley County Council Thursday gave Bruce A. Poole, 50, of Falling Waters, W.Va., 60 days to either sell the Potomac Park Estates subdivision property lots that he and Kendra N. Sulick own or to have what remains of a burned mobile home there cleaned up.

Poole, who is scheduled to be sentenced March 4 on two misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and one felony count of civil rights violations, has been ordered by a circuit judge not to be within 100 feet of Lots 7 and 8 along Wisconsin Lane, according to county and court records.  

The code violation complaint initially filed in October 2008 was for high weeds, trash and debris, no septic and unlicensed motor vehicles, according to a report by County Litter Control Officer Donna Seiler.

Since then, additional violation notices were sent to the owners, who ultimately were ordered to stay off the property, according to Seiler's report and court records.

After the couple left the property, the mobile home caught fire, and what remains was never cleaned up, according to Seiler.  

On Thursday, Poole told County Council members he had a buyer interested in the lots, but he needed more time to sell it and did not yet have a sales contract. Poole said a lien was placed against the property for hospital bills and that he previously had tried twice to sell the land.

"I don't want to go back there," Poole said.

Rather than jeopardize a potential sale, the council decided to continue Thursday's hearing to give Poole more time to sell the lots.

Police have said that Poole, 50, and Sulick, 39, repeatedly harassed the victims by shouting racial slurs at them, making loud noises at night, driving recklessly near their home and threatening to harm them.

A jury in June 2010 found Sulick guilty of three felony counts of civil rights violations, and Poole entered Alford pleas in November 2010 to the misdemeanor and felony counts.   

Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt, but acknowledges the state has enough evidence to gain a conviction.

Poole's animal cruelty convictions stem from allegations that he shot Essence, a dog belonging to the family of Brian and Betty Ann Smith in December 2007, according to court records. Reports of the black family's mistreatment continued through April 2009, according to court records.

Under the terms of Poole's plea agreement, presiding 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes has the discretion to sentence him to probation or as many as as seven years in prison for the civil rights violation. A six-month jail sentence for each animal cruelty conviction would be served concurrently with the civil-rights violation sentence.

Sulick, who was placed on five years of probation in November 2010 in lieu of a six-year prison sentence, is in Eastern Regional Jail after being arrested for driving under the influence, according to court records.

A pretrial hearing for her DUI charge is set for March 8, and Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said Thursday that a probation revocation hearing would be held in circuit court next month, according to court records.

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