LUMBERTON, N.C., FEB. 2 -- The governor's chief of staff, Phillip Kirk, said today that he and two other state officials would meet late this week or early next week with the two Tuscarora Indians who took over the newspaper here Monday to protest corruption and discrimination among local law enforcement officials.
"We've heard the allegations," Kirk said. "What I'm interested in now are some specifics."
Eddie Hatcher and Timothy Jacobs, who held at least nine Robesonian staff members hostage for 10 hours, surrendered after Gov. James G. Martin (R), through his aides, agreed to investigate their allegations that Robeson County sheriff's deputies deal drugs and discriminate against Indians and blacks.
A day after the crisis peacefully concluded, this rural county seat was coping with its sudden national notoriety as a community torn by longstanding racial animosity and a newly burgeoning drug trade.
Together, Indians and blacks make up the majority of Robeson County's 103,000 residents. Last April, six months after the sheriff's son killed an unarmed Lumbee Indian whom he had stopped for a traffic violation, more than 1,000 marchers here protested the death in what participants described as the late arrival of the civil rights movement.
Deputy Kevin Stone was cleared by a coroner's jury in the death of James Earl Cummings, who was thought to be buying and selling drugs. Sheriff Hubert Stone said today that Lumberton's isolated location on I-95, midway between Miami and New York, has made it a new hub for cocaine trafficking.
Last year, Sheriff Stone said, his department made 400 drug-related arrests, more, he said, than any other sheriff's department in the state. But Stone, a 31-year veteran of the department, said he had no reason to believe that any of his employees, including 60 deputies, was dealing in drugs.
"If I did, they'd be indicted," he said, adding that he welcomed any outside investigation.
Cummings' family reported that he told them he had bought drugs from a supplier who stole them from the sheriff's evidence locker and later "feared for his life." Former deputy Mitchell Stevens was later indicted with two other men in the theft of drugs from the locker.
This afternoon, The Robesonian, an afternoon daily, printed the transcript of a rambling, tape-recorded statement made during Monday's siege in which Hatcher said a jail inmate had told him that Sheriff Stone was involved with drugs.
Under the release agreement negotiated to end the siege, the inmate, John D. Hunt, a Lumbee, was to be moved from the county jail. But Hunt told United Press International today he did not want to be transferred. Hunt said he has been a police informer for two years and feared for his life if he were moved.
Hatcher's taped statement said he confronted the sheriff with Hunt's information and several days later saw Deputy Stone, now an arson investigator, circling his home in nearby Pembroke in a car.
"Corruption in the county government here has gone too far for peaceful means to resolve what's going on," the statement said. "And this is why we are doing what we are doing."
A federal magistrate today ordered Hatcher and Jacobs held without bond at the Federal Correctional Center in Butner. A preliminary hearing was set Feb. 12.
At noon today, a coalition of community groups calling itself Concerned Citizens for Better Government held a news conference during which they denounced Hatcher's tactics but expressed sympathy for his demands and his allegations.