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A white man is charged with harassing four black men at a Hernando golf course.
By JAMIE MALERNEE
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2000
A white Pinellas County man faces aggravated assault and battery charges after authorities say he harassed black golfers at a Hernando County golf course and tried to run over one of the men with a cart.
Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto said Tuesday that he is considering prosecuting the case as a hate crime. If the circumstances warrant such prosecution, Catto said, it would be the first time a crime would be classified that way in Hernando County. As a hate crime, the charges against Huston Fulton Hill of Redington Shores would be upgraded and penalties would be stiffer.
Gordon Fleming of Spring Hill, who is black, and three friends were playing at the Dunes Golf Club at Seville on Friday when they noticed two white men in front of them playing very slowly, as if to annoy the group, a sheriff's report said.
Fleming's group complained to management about the men, later identified as Hill, 42, of 37 180th Ave., and Hugh D. Hall, 35, of 14230 80th Ave., Seminole.
Their complaint led to a confrontation, which landed Hill in the Hernando County Jail.
Fleming's group told deputies that Hill screamed obscenities and ran over Fleming's 72-year-uncle's foot with a golf cart. Hill told deputies that Fleming's group started the argument and that he was trying to get away when he accidentally ran over Fleming's uncle.
Hill said Fleming swung at him with a golf club and punched him in the jaw, the sheriff's report said.
Valerie Howe, an employee at the public golf course, told deputies she heard Hill and Hall making racial jokes and laughing before the altercation.
When she asked if they needed anything, she said Hill replied, "Do you have any chitlins?"
Howe told deputies that the men asked her why the management let n------ play on the course.
Howe then left to apologize to Fleming and his friends, who planned to attend an African American Club charity tournament at the Dunes ON Saturday that Fleming had organized.
When the group got to the 17th green, Hall and Hill came out of some nearby woods and yelled, "What do you f------ n------ think you're doing?" the sheriff's report said.
Hill, who was driving a golf cart, then tried to run over Fleming, Fleming told deputies. When Fleming jumped out of the way, Hill came back at the group in the golf cart and ran over the foot of Fermen Fleming, Gordon Fleming's uncle from Georgia, the report said.
Gordon Fleming then punched Hill in the jaw -- an action Fleming now says he regrets, along with the entire incident. Deputies did not charge Fleming.
"There might have been another way to handle it, but you react instantaneously," Fleming said.
The two white men told officials a different story. They say the black golfers confronted them about their slow play. Hill said Gordon Fleming swung a golf club at them and punched him without provocation, the sheriff's report said. Hill said he mistakenly ran over Fermen Fleming's foot as he tried to get away and then called the Sheriff's Office.
After hearing both sides, deputies arrested Hill, who was convicted in 1986 of carrying a concealed weapon. He was released from jail a few hours after posting $6,000 bail.
Hill, who owns Florida Securities in St. Petersburg, did not return phone calls Tuesday. His girlfriend, Vicki Schofield, said he was out of town having his jaw examined by a specialist. She said Gordon Fleming broke Hill's jaw.
According to the sheriff's reports, Hill's injury appeared minor and he declined to be treated by paramedics.
Gordon Fleming said he wants to put the ordeal behind him.
"I don't want to sit in judgment of where the anger came from. I am not their judge," Fleming said Tuesday evening after playing golf all day at Spring Hill Golf & Country Club. "I can still hardly believe it. I've been in Hernando County for five years, and I've never had any like this happen."
Despite the incident, the African American Club of Hernando County held its annual tournament at the Dunes on Saturday to raise money for minority college scholarships. Club vice president Sydney Martin said golf course employees are not to blame.
"The Dunes had nothing to do with it. They can't control anybody's behavior," Martin said.
Jim Cocchi, development consultant for the Dunes, said officials will review sheriff's reports to determine whether Hall and Hill will be banned from the public course.