Judge denies family's motion to revisit coastal land dispute
Posted January 30, 2012
Beaufort, N.C. — Superior Court Judge Ben Alford has denied a family's motion to reconsider the ownership of a disputed piece of land along Adams Creek, a tidal waterway in Carteret County.
In a memo dated Friday, Alford said he had thoroughly reviewed the Reels family's request that the court release two brothers, who have been held for nearly a year on civil contempt charges, and reconsider the dispute over who rightfully owns the land.
Alford denied the latter motion and deferred to a different judge, Jack W. Jenkins, to decide whether to lift the civil contempt charge. Jenkins ordered the arrests of Melvin Davis and Licurtis Reels last March when they refused to tear down their houses and leave the land after the courts ruled that an investment group, Adams Creek Associates, legally owns it.
They remain in jail.
A hearing was scheduled for Monday in the case, but Alford's denial of the family's motion meant that hearing didn't happen.
The Reels family, which has been involved in a dispute over the 13 acres of land for decades, said they were "devastated" not to have their day in court.
Elijah Reels originally 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 in the late 1970s, Mitchell Reels' brother, Shedrick Reels, came in to the picture. He presented a deed to the land saying Elijah Reels wanted him to have it. The deed was dated 1950 – six years after Elijah lost the land and Mitchell purchased it.
Shedrick Reels used the little known Torrens Law to convince a court he was the rightful owner to the land. The law, which is only on the books in a handful of states, allows someone to petition the court for ownership of land without having to prove a chain of title.
Shedrick Reels eventually sold the land in 1985, and it was purchased by the Adams Creek Associates investment group a year later.
The rest of the Reels family has been fighting to keep the land ever since.
Relatives say they were wronged by Shedrick Reels, who's now deceased, and by lawyers who failed to represent them properly.
Lamar Armstrong, who represents the investment group, said in court documents that "court orders have been blatantly disregarded as attorney after attorney has made the same old argument dressed up in new clothes."
"For decades, while their pro bono attorneys have marched under the banner of 'protect black family lands' (disregarding that the dispute arose between two African-American brothers, Shedrick Reels and Mitchell Reels), Melvin Davis and Licurtis Reels evinced an utter disregard for court orders and the rule of law,'" Armstrong wrote.