A charge that the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office filed against Pastor Leon McCray on June 1 has been dropped, Sheriff Timothy Carter said on Wednesday.
McCray said he’ll celebrate when he gets it in writing.
“He [Carter] came to my house yesterday,” McCray said on Thursday. “He said that he would get with the commonwealth’s attorney and get that in writing, so it’s official.”
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.
On Sunday, Carter said that additional charges had been filed against other individuals in the days following McCray’s arrest. On Wednesday, Carter said those charges were still being investigated by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
“Of course, I’m very excited,” McCray said of his charge being dropped. “At least to hear the verbal part of it that it would be dismissed ... I feel a lot better.”
But he said the experience he’s gone through is far from over.
“It’s very, very traumatic,” he said.
McCray has two master's degrees and a doctorate. He's a pastor and had no police record before June 1. Not everyone has his education and community standing, he said. Not everyone can defend themselves as clearly or effectively.
For those people, he said, "It’s done, it’s over, you’re just in jail with no help.”
In addition to his attackers, he blames a system of complacency and racism that allows violence against people of color and encourages law enforcement to believe white people over black people.
“That’s why they could jump in my face, threaten my life,” McCray said. “I mean, it’s just unconscionable how I was treated for such a small thing, but that’s how they operate.”
Following the death of George Floyd, an African American, in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, daily protests have taken place around the U.S. and in several other countries. The continuous unrest has raised the issues of racism and police brutality to the forefront of daily news reports and community conversations.
On Tuesday, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution that supports the fair and equal treatment of African Americans and condemns systemic violence toward members of the black community.
But McCray said more needs to be done.
“I love the community,” he said. “There are some really good people in the community. Many of the neighbors have met with me. ...
“I’m hoping that others will stand to make sure that we get change,” he said, “[but] I’m not advocating little Mickey Mouse change.”
McCray said he was invited to attend a small meeting Friday where he said Edinburg Mayor Daniel Harshman met with a council member, a Sheriff’s Office representative, and about six other area residents.
The purpose of the meeting, he said, was for those residents to discuss threats they’ve received of damage to their homes and property by people McCray on Thursday described as “the mafia” and “mobsters.”
Harshman could not be reached at the Edinburg Town Hall on Thursday, and no information on the meeting was available at the town office. Carter said he was aware of a meeting, but did not attend.
McCray said he was told that the Sheriff’s Office gets at least one call a week complaining about threats made against community members and their property.
“We have been so marginalized and not heard,” McCray said on Thursday.
Recalling how law enforcement arrested him but not the people he accused of assaulting him, he said any community change requires more than just "lip service."
"It’s just the season of 'things have to change,'" he said of national outrage. "It has to change ... This cannot be tolerated, because this is bigger than me.”