Neighbors: ‘devil church’ rumors put us at risk

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This story has been updated. Information has been added to this story to clarify the 'deadly weapon' used by Eric Hudson was a car, according to the warrant for his arrest, and addresses information contained in a report about the alleged use of a gun in the incident.

SILER CITY — New information obtained by the News + Record in the case of a Pittsboro Elementary School teacher charged with assault with a deadly weapon raises questions over whether he did indeed brandish a gun during an encounter with five teens who were allegedly trespassing on a road near his home.

On July 30, Eric Hudson was arrested and charged after an incident that occurred on July 10. Two teens involved — a brother and a sister — told the News + Record that on that day, Hudson chased after the car in which they and three others were traveling on Pleasant Hill Road. Hudson is accused of following the teens, passing them in his car, and stopping suddenly in front of them, causing a collision. The teens say Hudson appeared to brandish a gun in the process of confronting them. Hudson continued to follow the teens, they say, until they were able to elude him. 

Neighbors criticized the News + Record’s reporting of the story and defended Hudson, saying the teens were exaggerating. They say the car — in which five youngsters traveled — was being driven on their private road and that the teens yelled expletives at Hudson. They also said Hudson — whom they described as an ideal neighbor “whose precious family has suffered from several of these incursions” — doesn’t own a gun, and that he was acting to protect his family.

The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office report of the incident describes Hudson’s modus operandi as “by subject threatening victims with a gun” and lists “handgun” in the “weapon” portion of the report; a copy of the warrant filed regarding the incident clarifies the "weapon" as a gray Lexus.

But that copy of Hudson’s arrest warrant, which is dated July 30 and details the charges against him, doesn’t mention a gun.

Late Friday, a spokesman for the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office told the News + Record its own internal report includes the mention of the gun because it was part of what officers were told during the original investigation.

“Whenever an individual reaches out to the Sheriff's Office to file a report, we take down their account of events as they describe their experience,” Lieutenant Sara Pack, the office’s chief public information officer, said. “This information becomes the foundation for future investigation; evidence gathered during an investigation may support this initial report, disprove all or parts of the initial report, or results may be inconclusive. It was initially reported that Mr. Hudson brandished a gun during the encounter; therefore, this information was included in the initial report.”

Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson addressed the conflicting information in a statement.

"During the course of an investigation, deputies may receive conflicting information,” he said. “Misinformation can also be amplified and shared in the media and online, complicating investigations and potentially influencing an individual's right to a fair trial. The Sheriff's Office is not for or against any person; we are for facts, justice, and the truth."

Pack also clarified that the Sheriff’s Office filed charges against Hudson in the case. The News + Record previously reported the charges were brought by the District Attorney’s office based on statements made by the victims in the case. Multiple calls about the case made this week to the District Attorney’s office were not returned.

“The Sheriff's Office brought the charges in this case; our investigators gathered enough information and evidence to charge Mr. Hudson with assault with a deadly weapon and injury to personal property,” Pack said.

Meanwhile, Hudson’s neighbors continue to maintain the victims in the case trespassed on their property on River Bend Road, southeast of Siler City, and that they’re just a few in long history of “malicious youngsters” who vandalize the neighborhood on false pretenses that a neighbor is a Satan worshipper.

There’s no “devil church” located there, they say — just “marauding carloads of teenagers” who encroach upon their peaceful, private road “to raise hell.”

Those who live along the private road also said the victims of the case mistakenly identified sculptures in a yard in the neighborhood as “goat heads on a spike” and claim rumors about the neighborhood have persisted, unfounded, for decades.

Neighbors also told the News + Record the false descriptions in a story published in the Jan. 12-18 edition only further endanger them — they say the rumors will draw even more of the curious teens and entice them to trespass — and that local law enforcement has done little to stop trouble caused by trespassers over the last three decades. 

The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office told the News + Record that since January 2018, there’s been just a single complaint call from the neighborhood regarding cars speeding on the road and no complaints of vandalism. Pack, the chief public information officer, told the News + Record the group involved in the July incident in question “were intercepted by an officer and told not to return to the area.” 

Requests for comment from Hudson through his attorney were not responded to.

Hudson had been listed as a teacher on the school’s website on Friday, Jan. 6, when Chatham County Schools officials were queried about the case by the newspaper. By the following Monday, Hudson was no longer listed as an employee. Nancy Wykle, a spokesperson for CCS, told the News + Record last week that “Once the district was made aware of this issue, the administration followed district policy in addressing it.” She would not provide further information, citing it was a personnel issue. 

According to Chatham County Schools Policy Code 7140, which concerns criminal records checks, a potential hire must disclose his or her criminal history to the district prior to hiring decision, and if they are found to have a criminal record the district will make “a determination of whether the final candidate/independent contractor poses a threat to the physical safety of students or personnel or has demonstrated that he or she does not have the integrity or honesty to fulfill the duties of the position.”

The policy further states “false information on an employment application or contract which is intended to defraud, falsify, materially misrepresent or conceal the truth regarding criminal history will be a basis for denying employment or immediate dismissal.”

Other CCS policies iterate the school board may refuse to renew the contract of any teacher for any cause it deems sufficient, so long as the cause is not arbitrary, prohibited by state or federal law, or for personal or political reasons. Teachers may also be dismissed if they are convicted of a felony or “a crime involving moral turpitude.”

Many of Hudson’s neighbors on River Bend Road contacted the News + Record following the story in the Jan. 12-18 edition, which was entitled “Teacher charged with assault.” That story has since been updated online to correct errors present in the initial reporting, including clarifying that the roadway of Hudson’s residence is a private driveway, that the “goatheads on spikes” the teens reported seeing were actually ornamental sculptures created by a neighbor who’s an artist, and that the harassment faced by neighbors spans over the past three decades. 

In calls, email messages and letters to the editor (see page 5A in this week’s print edition) to the News + Record, neighbors disputed much of what the teens were quoted as saying, as well as other information presented in the story. They also said they’ve complained frequently to local law enforcement about trespassers, with little effect.

Pack said contrary to claims of residents of the street, “every call” made from the area in the last four years to the Sheriff’s Office — calls which included animal and wildlife complaints, a shooting and reports of a fire — “received a response.” 

Hudson’s court date, scheduled for last Wednesday, Jan. 18, was continued. His case, originally scheduled to be heard back in August, had been delayed. In addition to the assault with a deadly weapon charges, Hudson has also been charged with damage to personal property.

Following the incident, both Pack and the teens said the teens called 911. Chatham County Sheriff’s officers responded, investigated and turned information about the incident over to the District Attorney’s office. It was the DA’s office that filed the charges in the case based on evidence they collected, including — according to the mother of two of the teens — a video of the group’s encounter with Hudson.

The video of the incident has not been released to the public.

Neighbors said the News + Record’s reporting of the incident has caused them to feel “endangered and vulnerable,” and described the teens quoted in the story as “confrontational trespassers” who swore at Hudson after he confronted him about driving near his home twice on that July day.

The teens, one neighbor wrote in a letter to the editor in this week’s edition, are a pattern of “bored and malicious” youngsters who torment those in the neighborhood and “drive stealthily into our rural neighborhood along our private, common driveway, at all hours, often at night with their lights off. They trespass beyond property lines, vandalize, shout scary threats and obscenities, ignore ‘No Trespassing signs’ — once or twice even sawing through padlocks. Then they careen out of here at high speed on our one-lane, gravel lane. A dog was once hit. A young child was nearly hit.”

This is a developing story. 

Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at brappaport@chathamnr.com  or on Twitter @b_rappaport.

Publisher and Editor Bill Horner III can be reached at bhorner3@chathamnr.com or on Twitter @billthethird.

Eric Hudson, Devil Church, Siler City, Pittsboro Elementary

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