TABOR CITY — The man shot Sunday by state Sen. R.C. Soles Jr. had been to the elected official's Tabor City home before.
Thomas Kyle Blackburn, 22, was arrested last year and charged with trespassing and attempted breaking and entering at the senator's house, according to police records. Those charges were later dropped.
An attorney for Soles said Monday the senator was acting in self-defense when he shot Blackburn in the leg with a handgun. Blackburn was released Monday from a hospital across the state line in Loris, S.C. He could not be reached for comment.
B.J. Wright, 23, was also at Soles' house when the shooting occurred, according to police.
Wright told WECT-TV in Wilmington that he went there to speak to Soles about taxes on a trailer he used to own, according to The Associated Press.
"He did ask us to leave numerous times," Wright said. "Kyle had a few things to drink. They were arguing back and forth and he asked him to leave again. He didn't kill him, just a minor wound to his leg. I bandaged him up and drove him to the hospital."
The State Bureau of Investigation, already reviewing accusations Soles improperly touched a teenage boy 12 years ago, has taken control of the probe into the shooting. SBI officials would not comment on the investigation.
Nor would Soles comment. The senator, a 74-year-old Democrat who is the Senate's longest-serving member, met at his Tabor City law office for at least two hours Monday with Joe Cheshire, a criminal defense attorney from Raleigh.
As Cheshire left the senator's office, he said that Soles' actions were justified and that the shooting was recorded by video surveillance cameras at Soles' house.
"Senator Soles is sorry that this has happened," Cheshire said. "But when someone comes to break in your house, you have a right to defend yourself. ... It's pretty clear from what I've seen that he had a right to do what he did. He's tired and upset at this point."
Cheshire said Soles shot Blackburn in the leg. "It's pretty clear he wasn't trying to kill him," the lawyer said.
Rex Gore, district attorney for Columbus, Bladen and Brunswick counties, issued a statement saying he has not determined what, if any, criminal charges might be filed.
"We are still in fact-gathering mode," Gore said.
A supervisor for Columbus County's 911 call center said there was no tape of any calls about the shooting because no one ever called 911. There was also no ambulance dispatched to treat the wounded man.
The heads of two local law enforcement agencies that went to the senator's home following the shooting, the Columbus County Sheriff's Office and the Tabor City Police, said there were no written reports about the incident.
Tabor City Police Chief Donald Dowless said Monday he learned of the shooting when Soles called him on his cell phone about 5 p.m. Sunday and said he needed officers at his home, just outside the city limits.
After securing the area, he waited about 30 minutes for the SBI to arrive before anyone entered the house. He also ordered his officers not to question the senator or Blackburn about the shooting.
"I didn't want to know," Dowless said. "I'm a rather small department. We don't have the means and ways of the SBI. He is a high-profile individual in the state legislature and also has a successful law practice here in town."
He said he didn't want the investigation "tainted or tarnished one bit."
SBI agents were still in town Monday.
Young male clients
Soles, a lawyer, has said generosity is at the heart of his ties to various young men who have been his clients. He has given a house, cash and cars to young men. Soles said in an interview last week that he has been financially successful in a rural community and wants to help the men straighten out their lives.
Blackburn, the man injured at Soles' home, was released from prison this year following a probation violation from a 2004 felony breaking and entering conviction.
Among his numerous past charges, Blackburn was arrested Sept. 14 for another incident at Soles' home, records show. Witnesses called Tabor City police and reported seeing Blackburn and another person attempting to break down the senator's door. The two tried to flee on a scooter but were arrested by police after a short chase.
Michael Scott, who is listed as reporting Blackburn to police last year, is the brother of Stacey Scott, according to Dowless. Stacey Scott told a Wilmington television reporter that Soles fondled him when he was 15 and then later paid him $1,000 to keep quiet. The account, aired earlier this month, triggered the SBI investigation of Soles.
Stacey Scott recanted last week, saying he was high on drugs during the taped interview.
Tabor City residents, already reluctant to discuss Soles, appeared even more reticent Monday. The senator is credited with securing state money that benefits his hometown, including a recently built prison on the outskirts of the little city, which has a population of less than 2,800 people.
They also had had their fill of reporters' questions. Mayor Royce Harper left work early at the NAPA auto parts store downtown. A co-worker had taped a small sign on his shirt: "I am not the mayor."
Cheshire represented Soles during a 1983 corruption trial in federal court, during which three of the four charges against Soles were dismissed. A jury acquitted him of helping a political ally receive a bribe.
The senator's lawyer reiterated Monday that Soles often tries to help his clients and constituents.
"He's probably one of the most giving and kind people I've ever met," Cheshire said. "He doesn't have any family and he has adopted this town as family. He's tried to help a lot of young people, men and women, who get mixed up with drugs and alcohol. "It's who he is and why the people of this district continue to elect him. Sometimes when you do that, people expect more than what you give them."
Staff writer Benjamin Niolet and news researcher Denise Jones contributed to this report.
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