Kanawha County Textbook Controversy

Charleston Daily Mail
September 13, 1974

Moore, Melton Sniping Catches Public In Middle

By Richard Grimes
Chief of Capitol Bureau

A baffled citizenry, angered by the lawlessness of protesters this week, has found itself caught in a political crossfire between the county sheriff and the governor's office.

Literally hundreds of calls saturated the Capitol switchboard yesterday from persons who complained of no police protection, or expressed fear of harm to life and property. They were told, "We're sorry, it's a county problem."

An equal number of calls went to the courthouse and callers were told to "Call the governor's office."

State police began placing two troopers at each protest site Thursday - four days after Kanawha County Sheriff Kemp Melton said he asked, and finally "begged, " for state help.

It's so bad, says the sheriff, that he has even considered deputizing city policemen.

Melton said today that two troopers answered a shooting call yesterday, but to the best of his knowledge that is the only help from the state his men have received. "It they are out there, we haven't seen them."

Melton said he had the man in custody charged with a shooting today, only to receive a call from the state police that a trooper is on his way up to take charge. "He'll have to kill me to take charge," said an angered Melton.

"Me men have worked hard and without them we would have had anarchy," he said. "I like the governor, but he has read this whole thing wrong."

State police Sgt. D. L. Lemon at South Charleston said if Sheriff Melton has not seen any state police car and troopers on the Kanawha County roads Thursday and today, then Melton has "forgotten what they look like."

"We still drive blue and gold cars and our uniforms are green," Lemon said. Lemon said he has had 66 troopers on the roads in eastern Kanawha County Thursday and today and troopers were the first on the scene at today's shooting at Rand. "We passed our information on the shooting to deputies," Lemon said. "We have made no arrests because when our men are on the picket lines there has not been any violence."

Through this all, speculation flies - a Republican governor wants to politically embarrass a Democratic sheriff; there is police infighting between state police hierarchy and at least three former state police officers who have gone to work for the sheriff; Melton quotes Gov. Moore as telling him the situation is politically unstable and he is reluctant to act because of political implications; state officials aren't convinced sheriff's deputies have done all they say they have done to enforce a county injunction; and both argue the law is on their side.

Both state and county sources say they think the heart of the problem may be that Deputy James Brannon, a former state policeman fired for publicly attacking Gov. Moore and Col. Bonar, now works for Melton. In addition, former state police Lt. Col. Walter Pike and former trooper W. G. Slimick also work for melton [sic].

"There is a lot of jealousy and dislike that comes to play here," said one trooper who knows all the parties involved. Bonar says he is running the department the way the law says he should.

Adding to the confusion is the limited support Melton says he is getting from city police. Interestingly enough, officials in the Moore administration, while defending the state's inaction, also jump to the defense of the city, lending support to county assertions that the city and state have lined up against the sheriff.

Mayor John Hutchinson, however, responded strongly to implications that city police aren't helping.

"Violence will not be tolerated in our city, and city police have and will continue to enforce the law. To charge that I have failed to protect the citizens of Charleston because of political considerations is an outrageous lie. To charge that our police officers have filed to act because of timidity is another outrageous lie," he said.

"If some hot-headed idiot chooses to do violence, which unfortunately has happened in a couple of instances outside the city, it is the duty of all government agencies to quickly respond, but to respond in a lawful manner," Hutchinson said.

The mayor said he was making his statement in protest of a "vicious editorial" which appeared today in the Gazette.

State troopers from all over the state began pouring into the area yesterday and arrangements were made to put them up in motels and, if necessary, in rooms at the State Police Academy at Institute. State Police Supt. R. L. Bonar said should law and order break down - which he said it hasn't - his department will be ready to move in.

Gov. Moore, speaking at the Shawnee Hills Regional Mental Health Center late yesterday, said the p[r]otest works to the disadvantage of the students, but called for arbitration. He called yesterday's shooting "tragic" and said, "I i[n]tend to see that construction of the law is adhered to."

Bonar says his men will answer complaints of a criminal nature, but will not get involved in civil disputes, which he said much of current problem is.

He said his troopers responded this week to a bomb threat at George Washington High School, to a Thursday morning report that five cars were rocked in the east end of the county, and to a shooting yesterday afternoon at Smith Transfer at Belle.

Sheriff Melton says troopers gave only a passing glance to incidents at Smith Transfer and said two troopers gave a victory sign to the protesters as they drove by.

Bonar said he thinks Melton hesitates to ask for help, because if he does, the deputies will come under his control.

Melton says that is absurd in that he has called every day since Sunday for help. He says he doesn't care who his men are under as long as the law is properly being enforced. He also said that everytime he called for Bonar he was told to go through the governor's office.

"I have done everything I know to do," he said.


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