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Publication: THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
Published: Friday, December 27, 1985
Byline: JAMES A. HAUGHT
WHEN COAL STRIKE VIOLENCE OCCURS IN WEST Virginia, you'd think that coal operators, out of self-interest, would do everything possible to soothe passions and prevent upheavals that ruin their profits.
But some operators hire guards of a sort who worsen the danger.
Raleigh Crystal Coal Co. employed South Charleston security contractor John Hunter, who was caught with a machine gun and was charged with trying to enlist thugs to "break arms and legs" of union leaders. Later, Secretary of State Ken Hechler waged a court battle to prevent A.T. Massey Co. from using Ohio guards with criminal records.
More recently, investigative reporter Paul Nyden found another bizarre security case, as follows: Leo M. Lake quit six police jobs in a decade. After resigning as a Marion County deputy sheriff, he became a town officer in Mississippi, but quit amid brutality accusations. Then he was a Mississippi deputy until four lawsuits accused him of brutality with leaded gloves and sharpened handcuffs. His resignation was negotiated as part of a damage settlement.
Lake was a Lewis County deputy in 1981 and 1982 - but he arrested his boss, Sheriff Ralph Hall, at his home and took him to jail in handcuffs. This breakdown in employer-employee relations led to the deputy's departure. "I'm glad Lake is not in Lewis County - anymore," Chief Deputy Margaret Adams said.
Next he was police chief at Wayne, but he was fired in 1983.
Mayor James Ramey explained: "Our town hall was broken into one night. The next morning, Lake was discovered trying to break open the town safe with a sledge hammer." He wasn't prosecuted.
Then he became a town officer at Gilbert, Mingo County. Town officials won't say why he left.
Why in heaven's name do small police departments hire officers with such records? No wonder brutality complaints flare constantly and insurance for local governments has become unaffordable.
Then Lake became a Pinkerton guard at the strikebound PG&H Coal.
Co. mine on Cabin Creek, where the United Mine Workers has been fined $127,446 for violence and mine owner George Dunham was shot in the leg. The Pinkerton agency terminated Lake after learning of his record - and PG&H hired him individually to be in charge of security at the mine.
Another Pinkerton guard in the Cabin Creek strike is former Charleston policeman Gregory Johnson, who left the force after he fired 12 shots at a suspect and later severely wounded a teenage driver in the driveway of his Edgewood home.
What hope is there for sanity during coalfield strife when, in addition to other problems, coal firms bring in such "peacekeepers"