The 62-year-old man accused of shooting and killing an unarmed teenager on Charleston’s East End Monday night was not allowed to have a gun, because of a previous domestic violence conviction.
William Ronald Pulliam allegedly shot 15-year-old James Harvey Means twice in the abdomen with a .380 caliber revolver.
Police said Pulliam showed no remorse after his arrest. He admitted shooting Means and said, “The way I look at it, that’s another piece of trash off the street,” according to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court.
After the shooting, Pulliam went to dinner and then to a female friend’s home, according to the complaint, written by Charleston Police Detective C.C. Lioi. Police found the gun allegedly used to kill James Means at the friend’s home.
Charleston police asked federal authorities to determine if the killing meets the definition of a hate crime. Pulliam is white and Means was black.
The teenager was shot after a confrontation with Pulliam outside the Dollar General store at the corner of Washington and Nancy streets around 8:45 p.m. Monday.
Witnesses saw and heard Pulliam and Means exchange words after the two physically bumped into each other on the sidewalk near Dollar General, according to the complaint. After the argument, Pulliam entered the store, while Means joined friends on the porch at the nearby home of a companion’s grandmother.
After Pulliam emerged from the store and walked past the porch where Means and his friends had gathered, the two argued again, and after Means crossed Washington Street East to approach the man, Pulliam shot Means twice, according to the complaint. The teen died shortly after arrival at Charleston Area Medical Center General Hospital.
One of the witnesses to the shooting was 13-year-old James Cooper, who told the Gazette-Mail on Tuesday morning that he saw Pulliam kill his friend. He said he, James Means and another friend were sitting together just before the shooting. After the shooting, James Cooper said, he hopped a chain-link fence next to the house where the three were sitting.
On Tuesday morning, he showed another friend, Teonno White, 14, where the shooting happened, in front of a few brick houses on Washington Street East just before the intersection with Nancy Street.
White said he’s had run-ins with Pulliam in the past, when Pulliam would “pick on” his younger brother.
“One time I went over there to talk to him about it, I said, ‘You’ve got to quit picking on my little brother, that doesn’t look right,’” White said.
“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 said he’s called the police about Pulliam before, and was told to avoid the man.
Caleb Burgess was working at the Dollar General when officers responded Monday night. He saw at least six police cars pull into the store’s parking lot.
“Someone told [the police] the guy came in here after the shooting, but he actually came in here before,” Burgess said.
He said police initially forced Burgess and another employee to the ground, guns pointed, until they confirmed the store was empty.
“After that, we pretty much were helping the cops with our camera systems for an hour or so,” Burgess said.
Lt. Steve Cooper, chief of detectives for the Charleston Police Department, said Pulliam was arrested near the scene of the shooting at about 10 p.m. Monday, slightly more than one hour after the event.
Pulliam was arraigned on the murder charge Tuesday morning via video from South Central Regional Jail before Kanawha County Magistrate Ward Harshbarger.
He appeared stoic as he acknowledged that he could face life in prison if convicted, and that he could have a lawyer appointed by the court represent him.
But he seemed startled by the idea that he would have to remain in jail for now, after Harshbarger told him that any possibility of him being released on bond wouldn’t come before his preliminary hearing on Dec. 1.
“Don’t I get to say anything?” Pulliam asked. The magistrate advised him against doing so before speaking with an attorney.
“I’ll lose my job and everything unless I can get out of here,” Pulliam said.
“I’m going to have to go on a hunger strike,” he muttered, as he was escorted out of the video conference room by a correctional officer.
Pulliam pleaded no contest in 2013 to a charge of domestic battery, which bars him from legally possessing a gun.
According to another criminal complaint in Kanawha Magistrate Court, Pulliam struck his pregnant daughter in the face several times with a closed fist and kicked her in the stomach. He also shoved his wife to the ground during that incident, according to the complaint.
Pulliam’s daughter had visible bruising to her left eye and was bleeding from her lip, Charleston Police Cpl. P.S. Kapeluck wrote in the January 2013 complaint, and Pulliam’s wife was bleeding from her elbow.
Prosecutors dropped one count of domestic battery, and Pulliam pleaded no contest to the other. He was sentenced to 36 days in jail, but Kanawha Family Judge Mike Kelly, who retired in 2014, suspended that sentence. The judge placed Pulliam on a year’s probation and gave him credit for six days he had already spent in jail.
According to Charleston police, the FBI is looking into the shooting, apparently to determine whether its meets the criteria for investigation as a hate crime.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby confirmed Tuesday afternoon that federal authorities have been asked to review whether the shooting falls within the federal hate crimes statute.
“That review is in its early stages, and the fact that a review is being conducted should not be taken as any indication of what the review’s outcome will be,” Ruby said. The hate crimes statute “establishes a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for willfully using a firearm to kill another person because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion or national origin.”
Staff writer Elaina Sauber contributed to this report. Reach Rick Steelhammer at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5169, or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter. Reach Kate White at email@example.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @KateLWhite on Twitter.