A judge ordered the arrest Wednesday of a Guilford County man who has refused to move about 20 abandoned mobile homes from his property and warned of retaliation if the county tries to take his land.
Sheriff BJ Barnes arrested E.H. Hennis at his home in southwest Guilford County at 4 p.m. Barnes said the 75-year-old man went peacefully and handcuffs were not needed, but he did make some threatening remarks, which led the sheriff to take further action.Hennis talked about the three tons of ammonium nitrate he keeps in the shed behind his house and told Barnes, ``If something blows up, it's not my fault because I'm in jail.'
Based on these statements, Barnes said he was planning to get a search warrant Wednesday night and investigate whether Hennis has incendiary materials on his 3-acre lot off Groometown Road.
Hennis has told the county commissioners that he has ``tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel, much more than (Timothy) McVeigh had in Oklahoma.' Ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel were components of the bomb that destroyed a federal building and killed 168 people in Oklahoma City in 1995.
The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms previously determined that Hennis has broken no laws, but the bureau's top agent and other authorities said Hennis' comments should not be dismissed.
Hennis, who is a former leader of the Greensboro Ku Klux Klan and an Army detonation engineer, began his dispute with the county as a basic zoning conflict. His arrest is the climax to a bitter land fight that began about a year ago.
County officials ruled that Hennis is running a salvage yard, which is illegal on land zoned for agriculture. They sued Hennis to force him to remove the collection of mobile homes on his property.
A Superior Court judge ordered Hennis to remove the trailers by Aug. 6, but Hennis ignored the deadline.
Hennis was supposed to appear in court at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday to show why he should not be held in contempt for failing to meet the judge's order. But Hennis did not show up. He said in an interview last week that he would not attend the hearing because he believed the court would automatically rule against him.
Judge Henry Frye Jr. signed an order for Hennis' arrest for failure to appear in court Wednesday. A few minutes later, Barnes arrested Hennis. Barnes had driven to Hennis' home that afternoon and waited for deputies to notify him that Frye had signed the arrest order.
Barnes walked up to Hennis' home alone. Since Barnes had talked with Hennis many times about this dispute, he said he believes Hennis likes him and is less likely to hurt him than deputies he did not know. Hennis promised not to give Barnes any trouble, so the sheriff said he did not use handcuffs.
``I didn't want to escalate the situation in any way. ... I didn't want a show of force,' Barnes said.
Now Hennis will remain in jail until he cleans up his property.
``He could presumably go to jail for life,' said Ed Pons, a deputy county attorney who is leading the legal fight against Hennis.
But Barnes is still hoping for a peaceful solution and said he is working with County Manager Roger Cotten to reach a compromise with Hennis.
``I don't want to see a 75-year-old World War II veteran lose his property,' Barnes said. But Barnes also said he can't allow Hennis continue to ignore the law.
In recent weeks, Barnes and Cotten had tried to reach a compromise with Hennis. The talks broke down when Hennis learned that Cotten had asked county purchasing officials to find out how much it would cost to have the mobile homes removed. That news angered Hennis, who thought Cotten had jumped the gun.
Judge Frye must still rule on the major issues in Hennis' case. He could force Hennis to pay $48,775 in back fines to the county, plus an additional $15,000 to $20,000 for the cost of removing the mobile homes. Frye could order that a lien be placed on Hennis' property, which could result in Hennis losing his land.
Frye said Wednesday that he would review the case and rule on it later. Pons said he thinks Frye may decide within a few days.