A white Pinellas man is accused of attacking a group of black golfers. It will be prosecuted as Hernando County's first hate crime case.
By JOY DAVIS-PLATT
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 9, 2000
A white Redington Shores man accused in February of harassing four black golfers on a Hernando County golf course will be the first person prosecuted for a hate crime in that county.
Huston Fulton Hill, 42, now faces an upgraded felony charge stemming from the Feb. 18 incident in which he is accused of harassing black golfers at the Dunes Golf Club at Seville, making racial slurs and trying to run over one of the men with a golf cart.
Instead of facing a maximum of one year in jail for the original misdemeanor aggravated assault and battery charges, Hill now could face up to five years in prison if convicted of the felony hate crime, prosecutors say.
Though Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto refused to discuss details of the case Wednesday, he said the crime warrants prosecution as a hate crime because it appeared to be racially motivated.
"We look at the overall factors of the case," he said. "We look to see what evidence there is of prejudice, as well as whether a crime was committed."
Florida's hate crime statute calls for tougher penalties if a crime was committed specifically because of the victim's race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, mental or physical disability or advanced age. Hill, of 37 180th Ave., will be arraigned in April, Catto said.
Spring Hill resident Gordon Fleming, who is black, and three friends were playing golf at the public course when they noticed two white men playing slowly ahead of them, as if to antagonize the group, according to a Hernando County sheriff's report.
Fleming's group complained to course managers about the men, later identified as Hill and Hugh D. Hall, 35, of 14230 80th Ave., Seminole.
The complaint, officials say, led to a confrontation that landed Hill in the Hernando County Jail.
Fleming's group told deputies that Hill screamed obscenities and ran over the foot of Fleming's 72-year-uncle 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 struck Fleming's uncle.
Hill told police Fleming swung at him with a golf club and punched him in the jaw.
A golf course employee told deputies that she heard the white men making racial jokes and laughing before the fight.
When Fleming's group got to the 17th green, Hall and Hill came out of nearby woods and yelled, "What do you f------ n------ think you're doing?" the sheriff's report said.
After hearing both sides, deputies arrested Hill, who has a 1986 conviction for carrying a concealed weapon. He was released from jail a few hours after posting $6,000 bail.
Neither Hill, who owns Florida Securities in St. Petersburg, nor Fleming returned phone calls Wednesday.
Sydney Martin, vice president of the African American Club of Hernando County, called the incident unfortunate but found good and bad in the prosecutor's decision to invoke the hate crime statute.
"I'm not happy that it has to be done," said Martin, who would not comment on the particulars of the case. "It's sad that we have to go on the color of someone's skin."
Shortly after the incident, the club held its annual benefit golf tournament at the Dunes to raise money for minority college scholarships.
Jim Cocchi, development consultant for the Dunes, said course officials have not yet discussed whether to ban Hall and Hill from the public course. However, neither one has returned.