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Monday, April 30, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor arrested for cocaine possession

The Rev. Hugh King, a prominent Pensacola pastor and civic leader, has been charged with possession of cocaine.

King posted a $1,000 bond early Saturday morning on the third-degree felony charge after he was booked into Escambia County Jail.

Elvin McCorvey, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that King's arrest was a tragedy for the local community.

"I'm very disappointed that this has happened, because Rev. King was a man that I held in high esteem," McCorvey said. "He always seemed to be a fine person."

King could not be reached for comment.

King, 53, is pastor of the Greater Union Baptist Church, one of the largest black churches in Pensacola, and also serves on the board of trustees for Community Maritime Park Associates Inc.

The former Pensacola City Council member was arrested late Friday evening at A and Blount streets by Pensacola police, who reported finding a plastic bag with cocaine in King's back pocket.

However, longtime church member Zoya Webster-Phillips, 64, said she does not believe King is guilty as charged.

"Naturally, we are soliciting the prayers of the people of Pensacola, whatever the outcome," Webster-Phillips said.

"Whatever the outcome is, his loved ones, which include his church family, will stand with him and for him."

Police arrested King shortly before midnight Friday when responding to a burglary call in the 100 block of North D Street. Police were notified that two black males were seen leaving the scene of the burglary in a gray Chevrolet Blazer. Several blocks away, they spotted a light-green Ford Explorer driven by Mark Anthony Cotton, 51, a police report states. King was a passenger in the car.

After stopping King and Cotton, an officer noticed a knife in the center drink holder of the car and observed a white-powder residue on it.

King and Cotton later were searched, and a plastic bag with white powder was found in King's back pocket, arresting officer Charles Joseph Decker reported.

White-powder residue also was found on the driver's seat.

All of the white powder tested positive as cocaine, Decker stated in the report.

Jail officials estimated the value of the cocaine at $25.

Escambia County jail had no record of Cotton's arrest. Cotton could not be reached for comment.

King is a well-known fixture in the community. He served on the Pensacola City Council from 1999 to until 2004, declining to run for re-election following the death of his father, the Rev. A.J. King Sr., on Oct. 9, 2003.

A.J. King led the church for more than 45 years.

Hugh King took over as pastor full time following his father's death and attributed his decision not to seek re-election to his expanded role at the church.

As president of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, King helped push to rename a portion of Alcaniz Street in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr.

It was unclear Saturday whether Hugh King still is president of the SCLC chapter.

Vocal on issues affecting minorities in the community, King questioned the University of West Florida's lack of minority contractors in 1998 and the state's "stand your ground" law passed by the Legislature in 2005. That law provides immunity to those who use deadly force in defense of life and limb.

Recently, King was appointed to the board of trustees for the Community Maritime Park Associates, which is entrusted with spearheading a $70 million waterfront project in downtown Pensacola that is expected to become the city's signature tourist attraction.

King was selected to oversee a subcommittee tasked with creating a contractor's academy to train local minority business owners in the complexities of seeking and securing bids on the project that will include a multiuse stadium, University of West Florida classrooms, a maritime museum and restaurant and retail space.

Pensacola Mayor John Fogg, who also sits on the Community Maritime Park Associates board of trustees, said he was not aware of any provisions in the group's charter that would allow for the removal of a board member if convicted of a felony.

Fogg said he did not want to speculate on a case that has not been decided.

"The due process has to unfold," Fogg said.

Some area pastors and City Council members contacted for the story Saturday night were reluctant to talk.

Quint Studer, a local businessman, owner of the Pensacola Pelicans and principal contributor to the maritime park called King's arrest "a tragedy" but declined further comment.

King is no stranger to controversy. A council member of the Governor's Front Porch Revitalization Council of Pensacola, he has been a staunch supporter of the organization's community liaison, Thelma Manley.

The Inspector General's Office of the Florida Department of Community Affairs and the Florida Office of Financial Integrity are investigating allegations by some council members that Manley took agency grand funds for her own use.

King called a news conference at his church to defend Manley after the allegations surfaced.

Pensacola businessman John Wyche has known King for decades. King recently served as campaign manager of Wyche's recent unsuccessful run for the state House District 3 seat.

"We're just going to pray for him and his family with the hope that everything turns out just fine," Wyche said of King. "The Christian thing to do is for people to not cast stones at Rev. King. Now is the time for folks to show him all the love and support at this time of need."

Webster-Phillips agreed.

"The church is 100 percent behind him," she said. "A person is innocent until proven guilty."

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