ATLANTA (AP) _ Two factions entangled in a power struggle for control of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference say one side locked and chained the civil right group's downtown Atlanta headquarters.
The Rev. Markel Hutchins admitted to padlocking two doors and a gate at the building on Auburn Avenue on Monday night, May 17. He said he was appointed interim president of the 53-year-old SCLC last week by members of the civil rights organization's board.
However, other members of the group's board, including its chairwoman, don't recognize his authority. The feuding groups were once part of the same board, but have met and functioned separately since a rift began months ago.
“This conduct is criminal and deplorable,'' SCLC Chairwoman Sylvia Tucker said in a statement after the incident. “It is like a hate crime.''
Charles Mathis, an attorney representing the Tucker faction, said Tuesday, May 18 that he filed a temporary restraining order to keep Hutchins from using the headquarters.
Tucker, who is based in Virginia, said the board of directors will investigate the incident. She said that Hutchins is not a board member or officer of the organization.
Hutchins said he has done nothing illegal.
“I made the decision to secure the building,'' Hutchins said on Tuesday. “I am not responsible for the mess the SCLC is in, but I will be responsible for helping to right some of the wrongs and get the organization back on course to fulfill its mission.''
The padlocks were cut and chains removed from the building on Wednesday, May 19. Tucker's group said operations will continue and that staff will report to work on Wednesday.
The SCLC was co-founded by ministers Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Joseph Lowery and others in 1957 and was a leading force in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.
Last fall, federal and local authorities launched an investigation of allegations that the SCLC chairman and treasurer mismanaged at least $569,000 of the group's money. The two deny the allegations and continue to challenge their dismissal by some board members.
Chairman Raleigh Trammell and Treasurer Spiver Gordon have not been criminally charged, but the SCLC has spent the months in court, wrangling over control of the organization. Last month, separate factions that both claimed to be the SCLC's board of directors met hundreds of miles apart, and each said they made moves toward saving the group from its legal woes and infighting.
Hutchins is listed on the Georgia Secretary of State's Web site as chief executive officer and chief financial officer of the organization.
Both sides have asked judge to resolve the issue because neither will give ground. Hutchins said a hearing has been set for June 2.