Union City Minister shot - Ex-congregant Held

The San Francisco Chronicle/August 23, 1996
by Elaine Herscher - Chronicles East Day Bureau

The founder and head minister of a controversial fundamentalist church was shot in the face and neck in the church parking lot Wednesday night in Union City by a former congregant being sought in connection with a slaying in San Diego, police said yesterday.

Lacy Hawkins, 60, was in fair condition at Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley yesterday after being shot.

Diallo Earl Uhuru, 42, was arrested. Police said that after church services, Uhuru shot Hawkins, then shot himself in the head accidentally while struggling with a witness. Uhuru suffered minor injuries. He was released from the hospital yesterday and taken to Santa Rita Jail in Pleasnton. Union City police are seeking charges of attempted murder, one for Hawkins and the other for the witness who tried to disarm Uhuru.

The shootings come during a period of controversy for Hawkins and his General Assembly Church, a charismatic Christian group that has congregations in Berkeley, Vallejo and Union City. The church has about 1,500 members, mostly African American. Members receive the Holy Spirit and sometimes speak in tongues.

Church members describe Hawkins as a beneficent, loving pastor who would go to any length for his parishioners. But former church members describe him as a dictator who lures people into the church with kindness, then exerts complete control over every aspect of their lives.

In June, the church made news when 24 current and former Berkeley city employees filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming that their bosses accused them of belonging to a cult and denied them promotions based on their church membership. The suit is pending.

Jacqueline Odom, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said she could think of no reason why anyone would want to harm Hawkins. "We're very upset, The phones have been ringing all night," she said.

But Gary Burns, a member of the church for 14 years, holds a different view. "I knew this was coming eventually," said Burns, who left the church disillusioned by Hawkins' control over its members. "I'm surprised it wasn't worse."

Uhruru was being sought in connection with the slaying of his ex-girlfriend, 28-year-old Navy Lieutenant Cheri Michele Washington, who was killed by a bullet to the head early Wednesday morning at her condominium in Rancho Bernardo, north of San Diego.

The couple had been dating for several months, and Washington recently broke off the relationship, San Diego Police Lieutenant Glenn Breitenstein said. San Diego police were seeking Uhuru for questioning when he showed up in Union City and opened fire on Hawkins.

Uhuru, also known as Earl Uhuru and Nelson Sims, left the church about three years ago and moved to San Diego. Breitenstein said he was a civilian at the Naval Medical Center, where Washington worked as a registered nurse.

Union City police found a note in Uhuru's car indicating he was unhappy with Hawkins "for not hearing some concerns of his," said Captain Connie Van Putten. The note also included plans for Uhuru's funeral.

Mark Jones, a former member of Hawkins' church, said yesterday that he had been in touch with Uhuru recently because their daughters are close friends.

Jones and Burns speculated that Uhuru may have felt he could not escape Hawkins' influence. They said Uhuru may have blamed Hawkins for his estrangement from his wife, who still belongs to Hawkins' church. While in San Diego, Uhuru became a member of a congregation affiliated with the General Assembly, and Hawkins got Uhuru booted out of the church band, Jones said.

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