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South Boston News
A photo of the noose hanging in Phenix. It has since been taken down, according to local residents. (Contributed photo) / April 05, 2018
Due to the sensitive nature of this story the News & Record has disabled the comments section.

A bitter feud between black and white households in a remote corner of Charlotte County has taken an ominous turn after one of the families hung a rope in the shape of a noose from a tree in front of their home, flanked on both sides by Confederate flags.

The racially-charged display stunned neighbors and has drawn the attention of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office at Charlotte Courthouse. The Sheriff’s Office is investigating, according to local authorities who declined further comment while the case is pending.

Linda Wells, a white resident of the Phenix area not far from the Halifax-Charlotte county line, said the rope has hung in her yard for five years, and children have used it to swing on.

Her African-American neighbors across the road tell a different story. James Scott, with whom Wells has tangled in a running dispute that involves roaming dogs, took a photo on April 2 that shows a rope hanging from a tree with a loop at the end. On either side of the tree, Confederate flags are posted.

Scott and his mother, Evon Davis, who also lives at the household, say the rope with the noose is different from the rope that Wells put up two months ago — a rope without a loop at the bottom. A week ago, as Davis stood on the front porch, Wells took down the rope and tied it onto an adjacent tree, this time tying a loop at the bottom. In addition, Wells put up Confederate flags on either side of the rope, said Davis.

A picture taken by a neighbor of his car last November also shows the tree in front of Well’s house — a tree with no rope on it.

The sight of it hanging in the yard, Davis said, has caused her to lose sleep at night worrying.

Asked why she put up the Confederate flags, Wells replied, “Because it’s my right, my property, and I can.”

However, on the question of whether a rope noose is a protected form of speech, the law and state courts are unequivocal that the answer is “no.”

A 2009 Virginia statute that prohibits the hanging of a noose to intimidate someone was recently the subject of a case before the state Supreme Court. Justices heard the appeal of a felony conviction of a Franklin County man, Jack Eugene Turner, who was involved in a dispute with an African-American neighbor. Turner used a rope to hang a life-sized dummy, with a dark ski mask for a head, from a tree in his yard. When deputies arrived to investigate the display, Turner initially stated it was a scarecrow.

Arguing the appeal before the Virginia Supreme Court, Turner’s lawyer contended the noose law applied only to displays in public places, such as on the property of another person or by a state highway. The court disagreed, upholding Turner’s conviction in a March 1 ruling.

In Phenix, the bad blood between the two households has been rising for some time.

Both families talk about a tense relationship — and alleged ongoing harassment — ever since James Scott’s parents bought the house in 2012. (The household’s occupants are Scott, his parents Evon and Ted Davis, a six-year-old niece and a 12-year-old nephew.)

Wells lives across the road with her three teenage children.

Both families accuse each other of using foul and racist language toward children. Both families claim that the other’s dogs run free and chase their kids. However, Wells was in court earlier this year defending herself against a charge that one of her pit bulls killed a stray dog and maimed a hunter’s dog in the Scott/Davis front yard.

Ted Davis said he witnessed the incident and managed to get the pit bull off the second dog. He testified in court about what he observed. A General District Court judge ruled that the Wells dog was “dangerous,” according to court records, and ordered Wells to do several things in order to keep possession of the animal. She was ordered to use a muzzle and a leash when the pit bull is out of the pen, keep it in a securely fenced area, and buy liability insurance. According to Charlotte County Animal Control, Wells did everything required of her by the court.

Evon Davis said that relations between the neighboring households deteriorated further after Ted Davis testified against Wells in court.

On Tuesday, Evon Davis contacted the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office and Animal Control after hearing noises and finding Well’s pit bull going through the trash. After arriving at the scene, an animal control officer found that Wells had violated the court order, and she voluntarily surrendered the dog to him.

Aside from sparse court records — hearing transcripts are not recorded in General District Court — no independent verification is available to support the accusations that either household makes against the other. However, on the question of whether a noose hung in front of Wells’ house, other residents of the area attest to seeing the spectacle with their own eyes.

Racial intimidation is no stranger to Charlotte County history, where a black man accused of assault was lynched by a mob on May 7, 1886.

A newspaper report by the Richmond Dispatch, with a dateline of Drakes Branch, told of a Dick Walker who was arrested in the attempted assault “upon a daughter of one of our most respective citizens.” After being taken to jail, Walker was hung by a mob of 50 people who broke into the facility and overpowered the jailer. The incident was highlighted in a documentary, “An Outrage,” that aired last year on the A&E Network.

Violation of the Virginia statute banning the intimidating display of a noose is a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and fines of up to $2,500.

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