Brothers go to jail fighting for family land along coast
Posted January 23, 2012
Updated January 24, 2012
Beaufort, N.C. — Two brothers in Carteret County have spent nearly a year in jail as part of a fight to hang onto their family land along Adams Creek, a tidal waterway.
A judge ordered Gertrude Reels' two sons to leave the land or be arrested.
Reels, 84, has a rich connection to the land. The entire family does.
"That's where I was born and raised at. I walked from down there to the corner to school every morning," she said.
Reels' grandfather Elijah Reels bought the land in 1911, but lost it to back taxes in 1944. So, his son, Mitchell Reels, bought the land from the county.
When Mitchell Reels died in 1970, leaving no will, his heirs, including daughter Gertrude, believed the land was theirs. Two of Gertrude's sons, Melvin Davis and Licurtis Reels, built houses on the land.
Then, Mitchell Reels' brother, Shedrick Reels, came in to the picture. He presented a deed to the land saying his dad, Elijah Reels, wanted him to have it. The deed was dated 1950 – six years after Eljah lost the land and Mitchell purchased it.
Shedrick Reels, using a little known law, was able to convince a court he was the rightful owner to the land. He eventually sold in 1985 and it was purchased by an investment group a year later.
Melvin Davis and Licurtis Reels were arrested last year for civil contempt, when they refused to tear down their houses and leave the land after the courts ruled that an investment group legally owns it.
"It was not intended to sell. It was not intended to be disputed over. It was intended to leave a legacy for our family," said Kim Duhon, the niece of the jailed brothers.
On the phone from jail, Licurtis Reels said he will risk everything to keep his family's land.
"I'm not going to give up. I don't think I'm wrong, and I'm willing to fight for it," Licuritis Reels said.
The brothers have already lost a lot. They were in jail when Hurricane Irene blew through last September. Since they couldn't secure their waterfront homes, the storm washed away all of their possessions.
"They're there because they are right," Gertrude Reels said.
Dean Brown, of Garner, one of the investors who owns the land, said the courts have already ruled in their favor more than a dozen times over the past two decades, and he wants the Reels family to accept it.
Brown said there are no immediate plans to develop the land, but he said he's put so much into court costs that he's not willing to walk away from it.
Another hearing on the matter is set for next Monday in New Bern.