Groups feuding over who's in charge of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference threatened to bring criminal charges against each other on Tuesday.
The factions of the civil rights organization held successive news conferences that began with promises of reconciliation and negotiations but eventually turned bitter.
One side wants trespassing charges brought against the Rev. Markel Hutchins for welding shut a back door to the organization's headquarters and padlocking gates. They said Hutchins “broke into our offices in the dark.”
Hutchins said he may also seek “criminal warrants against the people who cut the locks” he had put on the gates and the back door on Monday night. “They claimed we ... broke into the office. I cannot break into my own office.”
Hutchins said that as of May 14, “I am the interim president and chief executive officer of the SCLC.”
He produced a copy of information on the Georgia secretary of state’s Web site that indicates he is president, CEO and chief financial officer. Hutchins, who ran unsuccessfully for SCLC president last year, said he had a staff member make the change on Monday.
The other group said Hutchins is not now on the SCLC board, nor has he been in the past, as he claims, and he is not interim president.
The Rev. Bernice King, the youngest child of the Rev. Martin Luther King, an SCLC founder, is president-elect but she won’t assume the office until the national convention this summer.
Both sides concede only a court decision will resolve this fight.
“We need to do something,” said the Rev. Bernard LaFayette, an SCLC board member and veteran of the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s. LaFayette spoke against the faction that includes Hutchins and ousted Chairman Raleigh Trammell.
The fight started late last year with an effort to remove Trammell, of Dayton, Ohio, and then-treasurer Spiver Gordon of Eutaw, Ala., because of suspicions the two had misappropriated SCLC funds.
A vote was taken to remove Trammell and Gordon, but the Trammell faction, which includes Hutchins, says they are the official SCLC board.
“Hutchins has never been a member of the board of directors or a national officer of the SCLC," said Chairwoman Sylvia Tucker. "Hutchins has never been elected as CEO or interim president. This conduct is criminal and deplorable. It is like a hate crime; it makes my stomach churn.”
Late Tuesday attorney Charles Mathis, who represents the group against Hutchins and Trammell, filed court papers asking Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alford Dempsey for a temporary order keeping Hutchins out of the offices and prohibiting Hutchins, Trammell and others from claiming they are on the board.
Mathis also asked for a hearing to determine who is in control of the SCLC.
“I am not responsible for the mess the SCLC is in,” Hutchins said. “I will be responsible for trying to rescue this organization from this mess.”
Hutchins said he had a bolt welded to the back door and put padlocks on gates because he was responsible for securing “the office and all the property.”
He said he went there at night because his legal advice was that he could not remove the staff and he “should wait until they left” for the day.
LaFayette said Hutchins came to the building between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Monday. He said Hutchins vandalized the building and took equipment, including computers.
“That’s a lie,” Hutchins said.
"Hutchins has no right to be on SCLC property. His conduct of vandalizing and damaging SCLC property proves that Hutchins will do anything to try to control the SCLC,” said Tucker, who was named by the anti-Trammell group to replace him.
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