Police in Charleston, WV, have charged William Ronald Pulliam with murder after he shot 15-year-old James Harvey Means twice in the stomach on Monday night outside a Dollar General store a mile from the state capitol.
“The way I look at it, that’s another piece of trash off the street,” Pulliam told officers after his arrest Monday night.
Pulliam and Means argued after the two bumped into each other on the sidewalk in front of the store. When Pulliam left the store a few minutes later the two argued again, police say, before the 62-year-old shot Means with a .380 revolver he should have been barred from owning due to a 2013 domestic violence conviction for battering his then-pregnant daughter.
Means was unarmed, and there was no physical altercation between the two before Pulliam drew his gun and killed the teenager, Lieutenant Steve Cooper of the Charleston PD told a local news site.
Pulliam, who is white, was a familiar villain to some of Means’ friends. Fourteen-year-old Teonno White had tried to talk to Pulliam after the man picked on White’s younger brother.
“He said, ‘Get the [expletive] off my property.’ He said I need to go on with my nappy Latino self. He’s just a real bad guy,” White told the Gazette Mail. White had called police about Pulliam before, the paper noted, and had been told to stay away from him.
Pulliam told police he felt threatened when Means crossed the street to approach him. In a jailhouse interview with the local ABC affiliate, Pulliam claimed Means had flashed a gun at him. But Cooper, the city’s top detective, told reporters the killing was not self-defense.
“The victim wasn’t armed–there was no physical altercation–there was an argument,” Cooper said. “In this case we’re confident a murder charge is appropriate.”
City officials have asked federal investigators to look into Means’ death with an eye to filing additional hate crime charges against Pulliam. That probe is in its early stages, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby confirmed the feds are investigating Monday’s slaying.
Investigators in charge of hate crimes cases are heavily burdened at present, as more than 300 hate incidents have been reported nationwide since Election Day. While Means’ death doesn’t match the emerging pattern of post-election violence along ethnic and religious lines, it does echo some of the ugliest stories of white violence and fear from recent years.
Pulliam’s fatal decisions recall some of the paranoid vigilantism on display in George Zimmerman’s killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. And just last week, an appeals court upheld the murder conviction of 49-year-old Michael Dunn for shooting and killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis after an argument about loud music later that same year. In both cases, the killers argued they had feared for their lives — a common theme in both civilian and police killings of unarmed black people.
The block of Charleston’s East End where Pulliam killed Means sits in a sliver of town that is blacker and poorer than average for the West Virginia capital. The median income there is $21,000 there, compared to nearly $49,000 city-wide.
Pulliam referenced the makeup of the community nearby in his jailhouse interview, and insisted that he had not called Means a “piece of trash” to police.
“I don’t care if they’re white or black. Nobody is going to do me like that,” he said. “It doesn’t make any difference if he’s black. My God, everybody I live around over there is black. I get along with all of them, ask them.”