Five Charged In Mob Assault On Armed Virginia Pastor

Five Virginians from the state’s Shenandoah Valley-area are in custody and facing serious charges after allegedly assaulting a black pastor on his property earlier this month.

Originally, Pastor Leon McCray was the one facing charges, after deputies with the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office responded to his 911 call reporting that he was being attacked by the group.

McCray, 61, a pastor at Lighthouse Church & Marketplace Ministries International in Woodstock, was arrested last week after he called 911 to report several people attacking him on property he owns in Edinburg.

After deputies from the Sheriff’s Office arrived, he was arrested and charged with brandishing a firearm — his gun, which he said he was using to protect himself.

McCray said he wasn’t permitted to explain his side of the story until released later that night, and only after insisting. He provided a written statement and the following day requested and received a meeting with the sheriff.

McCray told his story publicly on Saturday at an anti-racism protest in Woodstock and again Sunday at a church service posted live on his church’s Facebook page.

He described two individuals trying to dump a refrigerator onto his property. After he asked them not to, he said they returned with more people and proceeded to insult him and threaten his life.

After law enforcement arrived, the Sheriff’s Office arrested McCray and handcuffed him. As  they drove him away, he recalled the people he accused of assaulting him cheering and waving at him.

McCray is a legal gun owner and a concealed carry licensee, and he was on his property, which makes his original arrest awfully suspect. In fact, on Friday, Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy Carter released a statement apologizing to McCray for his arrest, and says that two deputies have been placed on administrative leave without pay while an internal investigation takes place.

“[A]fter talking with him about the incident, it was apparent to me that the charge of brandishing was certainly not appropriate,” Carter wrote in the statement. “Actually, as I told Mr. McCray, if I were faced with similar circumstances, I would have probably done the same thing.”

On Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Office dropped the charge against McCray, who said on Thursday that he’s waiting on the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, which had reviewed the charge, to send him that confirmation in writing.

“That to me was the first thing that needed to be taken care of,” Carter said Friday of dropping the charge against McCray. “But in the meantime, we were still looking at the evidence in the case, trying to collect additional evidence, and that led us to make additional charges last night.”

Now Amanda Dawn Salyers, Farrah Lee Salyers, Donny Richard Salyers, Dennis James Salyers, and Christopher Kevin Sharp, are all facing serious charges of hate crime-simple assault and simple assault by mob. Additionally, all of those arrested with the exception of Amanda Salyers are facing one count of felony abduction as well. All five are currently being held without bond, and Sheriff Carter says he wants the community to know he’s taking the issue seriously.

“I have apologized to Mr. McCray, and I appreciate his patience as I have worked through these matters,” Carter wrote in the statement. “I do listen to citizen complaints and I take them seriously.

“I want the people of Shenandoah County to know I and the Sheriff’s Office staff appreciate and care about the minority communities, and especially our black community, in Shenandoah County.

“Also, I continue to support and recognize the importance of your constitutional rights, especially your Second Amendment right to protect yourself and your family.”

Given the circumstances of Pastor McCcray’s arrest, an apology by the sheriff, as well as suspension of the arresting deputies is a good first step. I hope that the investigation is not only prompt and thorough, but that there’s transparency when it is completed, so that the public knows exactly what happened and what the consequences will be for the deputies who arrested a man defending himself on his property, while originally letting his alleged assailants go free.