Klansmen indicted for March shootout

Austin American-Statesman/April 14, 1999
By Jason Spencer

A pair of North Carolina Klansmen involved in a shootout and high-speed chase with area law officers were indicted Tuesday by a Bastrop County grand jury on two charges of attempted capital murder.

Prosecutors allege Jimmy Ray Shelton, 40, and Eddie Melvin Bradley, 24, tried to kill a Williamson County sheriff's deputy and an Elgin patrolman during the 30-minute chase March 26. Bullets allegedly fired by Bradley shattered the windshields on patrol cars driven by Deputy Julius Matus and Patrolman Brian Garvel, who was grazed across the chin by a bullet fragment or glass shard.

Shelton and Bradley are both being held at the Bastrop County Jail in lieu of $275,000 bail. They face maximum penalties of life in prison for each charge.

In an interview at the jail, Shelton said he was innocent.

Shelton, who until recently was a high-ranking member of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, has a history of run-ins with federal and local law officers in North Carolina. Klan experts call the American Knights the fastest-growing Klan organization in America, with members in 27 chapters nationwide, including the Texas towns of Arlington, Odessa and Atlanta.

"It's an organization of gangsters, and most of the leaders have criminal records," said Mark Potok, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which tracks the Klan.

Last month's chase began in Taylor when officers say they spotted Shelton driving his pickup on Main Street at about 85 mph. Williamson County sheriff's deputies tailed the pickup south on Texas 95 to U.S. 290 in Elgin, where local police joined the chase and and where, police say, Bradley allegedly fired the first of eight to 14 gunshots from his passenger seat.

The pursuit continued east on U.S. 290 and ended when a Department of Public Safety trooper shot out the truck's tires east of McDade. Inside the pickup, officers found four rifles, a hand gun, ammunition, a cord capable of detonating explosives, seven knives, night-vision goggles, four Confederate flags and a small amount of methamphetamine.

What initially were suspected to be 10 armor-piercing bullets instead turned out to be standard ammunition, according to Texas Ranger Lynn "Rocky" Wardlow, who is heading the investigation.

Investigators also found a Bible with an inscription dated last year that identified Shelton as the Imperial Wizard of the Church of the Confederate Ghost Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Shelton said he was in Texas looking for construction work and blames law officers for initiating the chase.

"We're just looking for a place to live," Shelton said. "The police fired first and they rammed me first, so I didn't know what to do."

Shelton said he left his position as head of security -- or "nighthawk" -- of the North Carolina chapter of the American Knights to form the new Confederate Ghost Knights group. He recruited Bradley, along with more than 1,000 others nationwide, he said, to join. "They're about hate and I'm not," Shelton said of the American Knights.

"I'm just a plain ol' country preacher."

Shelton's claim to have voluntarily left the American Knights three years ago is contradicted by others.

Shelton was quoted in an Asheville, N.C., newspaper discussing his participation in an American Knights courthouse rally in October 1997. Shelton also was at an American Knights rally last August in Lexington, N.C., where he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and sentenced to 5 years of probation, law officers said.

Jeff Berry, the American Knights' national leader, said Shelton was forced out of the Indiana-based organization in August because he "wasn't American Knights material."

Berry, who has appeared on the Jerry Springer Show, laughed when told of Shelton's claim to more than 1,000 members.

"There's only three of them, and you guys got two of them in jail," Berry said.

A Charlotte, N.C., FBI agent specializing in hate crime investigations said Shelton was often spotted conducting Klan activity with Berry. He said Bradley has been identified as a Klan "wannabe."

The agent, who asked not to be identified, agreed with Berry's assertion that the Confederate Ghost Knights has few members.

He also said other racist organizations, such as skinheads and Neo-Nazis, are typically more violent than Klansmen. Shelton has had several other altercations with law officers, according to Lt. Philip Byers of the Rutherford County sheriff's department in North Carolina.

Although Shelton has not been charged in the crime, two of his associates are set to stand trial in federal court this week on charges they fired gunshots into the home of a black family in Rutherfordton, N.C., last May, Byers said.

"Mr. Shelton has been a suspect in a lot of different cases and has been arrested for carrying a concealed weapon at a Klan rally here in North Carolina, as well as had numerous weapons seized from him at a Klan rally in a federal park in West Virginia," Byers said.

Bradley's attorney, Howard Jenkins Jr. of Austin, said his client is mentally impaired and lives with his parents in the back woods of North Carolina.

According to Jenkins, Bradley's relatives say they are unaware of any ties Bradley may have had to the Klan.

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