by Jordan Green

Like many of his neighbors, William Marshburn viewed the city of Greensboro’s annexation of his property with displeasure in the late spring of 2008. A resident of Long Valley Road, he lives in a swath of residential areas along the northwestern outskirts of the city that was scheduled to become part of the city on June 30, 2008. An avid property-rights proponent, Marshburn will tell anybody that he believes annexation is unconstitutional because it forces citizens to pay taxes to a government that is not of their choosing — a situation analogous to that faced by the American colonists before they broke away from England. Marshburn had already spoken to a receptionist and left at least two voicemail messages with city planning employees, when Frederick Boateng, a senior planner, returned his call at around noon on June 2. Boateng possesses an upbeat personality, and frequent visits from colleagues and the exchange of lighthearted pleasantries suggest he is well liked in the department. Marshburn had found a sign on his road noting what he read as a special permit use hearing, and he wanted to know what was afoot. Boateng speculated that it must be the city council hearing the following day to set the city zoning for the land council had already voted to annex. Over the course of the conversation, which lasted more than 16 minutes, Marshburn is alleged to have told Boateng that he was going to kill city council members. Nine separate warrants for each council member vary in specifics: One alleging that Marshburn threatened to physically injure Mayor Yvonne Johnson states that he told Boateng “that he was going to go to the city council meeting and kill the city council members.” The other remaining warrants which reference the other eight council members state that Marshburn told Boateng “that he was going to kill council members with a gun.” Marshburn faces nine charges of communicating threats and a single charge of disorderly conduct when his case goes to trial in Guilford County Court on April 20. This reporter overheard part of that conversation. I spent hours a day for a couple weeks in the planning department in the late spring of 2008 logging petitions for annexation onto a laptop computer in a cubicle provided by the city. I had been researching so-called “voluntary” annexations, in which a developer promises to not oppose annexation in exchange for the city providing water and sewer hookups. The residents often buy new homes unaware of the agreements, and find themselves caught off guard when the city opts to bring them in to its corporate boundaries. Near the end of his conversation with Marshburn, Boateng punched the speakerphone button for his colleague’s benefit. The anger and volume in Marshburn’s voice caught my attention. His words made it evident that he was unhappy about being brought into the city. A call placed to the authorities by Boateng’s supervisor, Planning Manager Rawls Howard, only increased my interest. “A caller just told my senior planner: ‘I’m going to shoot your city council members,’” Howard said in Boateng’s presence. “That’s a direct quote.” The next day, Marshburn was arrested by Greensboro police officers outside of city council chambers. The 58-year-old defendant faces nine separate charges of misdemeanor communicating threats — one for each city council member — and one charge of disorderly conduct in Guilford County Court on April 20. Nine separate arrest warrants signed by a Guilford County magistrate allege that Marshburn told Boateng that he was going to go to the city council meeting and kill council members. A search warrant application made by Detective Robert C. Finch, who had been assigned to the criminal intelligence squad for about a month, erroneously identifies Boateng as an employee of the city’s engineering and inspections department. Finch reports that Boateng told him Marshburn said, “Well, I guess I’ll just come to the meeting tomorrow night (6/3/08) and kill the council members.”

The search warrant continues: “When the employee asked him what he meant by that, he responded, ‘If I kill them, they can’t annex my land.’ The city employee told Marshburn that it was illegal to bring a firearm into the council building and he stated, ‘Don’t mock me. I’m serious. I will kill people.’ During the conversation with Marshburn, the city employee was also told that ‘any government official will be shot where they stand.’” A recording of the conversation obtained by YES! Weekly reveals that Marshburn did not say that he would come to the council meeting and kill council members, although he did make reference to shooting former Mayor Keith Holliday and council members and much later in the conversation complained that he could not bring a pocket knife or chemical mace into council chambers.” About four and a half minutes into the conversation, Marshburn asks Boateng: “When’s the annexation date?” “It’s the thirtieth of June,” Boateng says. “Ah well, looks like I can go shoot my gun,” Marshburn quips. “Yeah, you can go and kill some deer today.” Boateng laughs. “No, I’m going to shoot anybody that’s higher up,” Marshburn says. “Duke Power. City council members — have them come out.” Boateng laughs again. “The former mayor would be good too,” Marshburn continues. Then, about 10 minutes into the conversation, Boateng says, “You can’t do anything about the annexation.” Marshburn’s voice rises in anger. “Oh yeah I can,” he says. “I can shoot anybody who comes out here and tries to do anything to my land. That’s what I can do.” Later, Marshburn accuses Boateng of willfully violating the Constitution through his role in annexing his property. He expresses the opinion that the public hearing the following day is likely to be a waste of time. “Yeah, and last one I came to I sat around for two or three hours wasting my time and having to plug a damn parking meter out there,” Marshburn yells. “I got rheumatoid arthritis and have to walk around. So if I don’t take my car I’ve got to come down there with all the stuff I got to carry and have a hassle coming into your damn building because you’ve got all kinds of metal detectors and things like that. I can’t travel freely in your damn city. I can’t carry apocket knife or any chemical mace or anything with me because I can’tcome into your damn meeting if I carry that. And you won’t hold itoutside. So what the hell am I supposed to do?” “Firearms and weaponsare not allowed in the building, sir,” Boateng informs Marshburn. “What?”Marshburn demands angrily. “I said, ‘Firearms are not allowed in thebuilding,’” Boateng repeats. “That’s what I told you, right?” Marshburnsays. “So why are you repeating it? Nobody said anything aboutfirearms. Personal protection is not allowed. A pocketknife is not aweapon.” Following Rawls Howard’s report to the authoritiesabout Marshburn’s phone conversation with Boateng, Detective Finch andDetective SK Flowers visited Marshburn at his house. Finchwrote in his search warrant that he asked Marshburn if he had anyweapons in his house, to which Marshburn reportedly responded, ‘Well,why don’t we just find out…. I’ll go get my rifle and we’ll see.” “Iasked Marshburn about his threats toward government officials ingeneral, and he stated that he would resist the government by force ifnecessary,” Finch’s account continues. “I asked him if he intended tohurt the city surveyor, tax collector or code enforcement officials andhe said, ‘Well, if I have to I guess I will.’” Marshburn contradictedFinch’s account in a recent interview. “I never said thosewords,” he said. “I can’t just attribute what he says in the report tobad memory. There are so many deletions, selective use of sentences outof context.” Marshburn said he had originally planned to visita friend who was ill with cancer instead of attending the city councilmeeting, but changed his mind after speaking to Finch. “I didn’t plan on going to the council meeting until the detective toldme about the hearing,” said. “He strongly advised me not to comebecause he said there will be hundreds of angry people there and theywill be searching for weapons. I hadn’t heard about this. I thought,‘This must be my neighbors. They’re going to be up in arms. I’m one ofthe neighbors, and I’m angry.’” Finch’s search warrant reportsthat Marshburn “stepped inside Melvin Municipal Building while walkingtowards the city council chambers wearing a leather jacket, andcarrying a bullhorn and a backpack. When questioned by detectives,Marshburn became very belligerent and cursed loudly. Thisoccurred in the lobby near the council chambers, and becauseMarshburn’s language was likely to provoke violence, he was arrestedfor disorderly conduct.” “Here’s the thing with themegaphone,” Marshburn recalled. “Detective Finch told me that I mightnot be allowed in the council meeting. I brought my megaphone. Mybackpack is a daypack that my son used in high school, very small. Ithrew in a half jug of water and an apple. I didn’t eat for five or sixdays. I had an apple to munch on during the meeting. I had a book, Stop Annexation, whichdisappeared. My backpack was smaller than some ladies’. The only thingI had was the chemical mace…. I was the only one they searched. Iexpected to see a crowd of people being searched. They said, ‘You can’ttake a megaphone in.’ If I couldn’t go in, I was going to go outside.Once I had a megaphone and they realized I was going to go out on thestreet, they had to find some reason to arrest me. That’s what Ibelieve.” Marshburn’s reputation has taken a battering in the public sphere because of reports in the News & Record andother media outlets that he has mental health problems, which has bothundermined his credibility and built support for the allegation that hethreatened to kill city council members. Finch’s searchwarrant reports that Helen Marshburn, who has been separated from herhusband for eight years, told the detective after the arrested andafter media accounts detailed the alleged threats that her husband’s“mental condition may be questionable.” Detective Finch’sauthorized search of Marshburn’s house on June 6 reportedly yielded aRemington model 03-A3 rifle, a Stevens model 311A.410 doublebarrelshotgun, a machete, a glass jar containing seven shotgun shells and onerifle bullet, a long “spear” type knife and a box of federal .44 magnumammunition. The search also yielded several pieces of literature. The News & Record reportedthat the police described the literature as “antigovernment,” andquoted Lt. Brian James as saying, “We felt those materials he had wererelevant to this case as far as him communicating threats towardcouncil members.” The printed materials seized included a copyof a 9-11 “conspiracy” pamphlet that Marshburn duplicated after his sonpicked it up at Ground Zero, and copies of the books The Third Terrorist: The Middle East Connection to the Oklahoma City Bombing by Jayna Davis, How to Overthrow the Government by Arianna Huffington, The Anti- Federalist Papers and Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinski.