BEDFORD – An aggravated assault charge was dropped on Wednesday against a Schellsburg-area man accused of shooting a Wisconsin civil rights activist last summer during a Black Lives Matter march through Bedford County.
Judge H. Cyril Bingham tossed the felony charge against Terry Myers, 51, following a five-hour preliminary hearing. The judge also dismissed several charges of simple assault. District Attorney Lesley Childers-Potts withdrew a charge of criminal mischief and several charges each of simple assault and reckless endangerment.
Bingham bound over seven of the reckless endangerment charges against Myers and one harassment charge, so Myers still will stand trial for the Aug. 24 shooting of Orsino Thurman, 37, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“There’s a sense of relief that the most serious charges are gone,” said Myers’ attorney, Matt Zatko, of Somerset, “but there is a level of disappointment they weren’t all dismissed.”
About 30 activists from Wisconsin were traveling on foot and in vehicles to Washington, D.C., for the March to Washington 2020 event when they stopped in the 800 block of Lincoln Highway in Schellsburg.
State police in Bedford said there was an exchange of gunfire between the activists and Myers after they parked on his father Elmer Myers’ business parking lot, across the road from Elmer Myers’ house.
Thurman was hit with birdshot and taken to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, where he was treated and released.
Prosecutors subpoenaed 19 members of the BLM group, but only four showed to give testimony.
Renee Ann Muza said she went along to video-record the march. She said the marchers had gathered along the side of the road in Schellsburg.
“I had my video when I heard shots ring out,” Muza said.
“Everyone was scurrying to their cars. This was something I had never seen before in my life.”
She said it was a peaceful march, operating at the grassroots level and including children and a 72-year-old. Some of the vehicles were decorated with signs and painted with words such as “love” and “peace,” she said.
The caravan of 12 to 15 vehicles traveled at night to beat the daytime heat, according to Muza.
Tameka Burks was traveling with her four children, ages 2, 3, 7 and 14. The group stopped in what Burks said looked like a safe place to change diapers.
She said she heard a gunshot and then more shots and someone shouting a racial slur. She brushed away tears, saying she feared for her children.
Zatko asked her if she heard yelling that the marchers were on private property.
“I didn’t hear that until I heard a gunshot,” she said.
Joseph Pagorch testified that it was shortly after 11 p.m when he was walking back to his car and heard a gunshot.
“Nobody realized it was a gunshot, and we heard the second shot,” he said. “It happened so quick. People started freaking out. I really didn’t want to be in Bedford anymore.”
James Teakes testified that he had joined the marchers that day with his 8-year-old daughter. He said the group was stretching along the side of the road, preparing to continue the journey, when he heard two shots.
“The ‘F’-bomb was dropped a few times,” he said. “Heard one or two more shots.”
State Trooper Adam Zinn testified that state police were not notified that the marchers were in Bedford County. He said that Myers fired two warning shots. After cross-examination by Zatko, Zinn conceded that Thurman was shot after he had fired two rounds at Elmer and Terry Myers.
Zatko said that Terry Myers was acting in self-defense.
“It’s unequivocal today that the first shot fired at anyone during the incident that evening was fired by Mr. Thurman,” he said.
Troopers recovered a shotgun, shotgun shells, and a 9mm pistol and a 9mm shell casing. Thurman’s DNA was on the pistol and the gun’s magazine, Zinn said.
Thurman did not appear for the hearing. He faces charges including two counts of simple assault and two counts of reckless endangerment. Because he is a convicted felon, Thurman was also charged with illegally possessing a firearm.
Childers-Potts did not comment after the hearing.