ATLANTA (AP) -- Board members entangled in a power struggle in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference say the civil rights organization's downtown Atlanta headquarters was invaded and vandalized by an activist who has sought to lead the group.
Sylvia Tucker, chairwoman of the SCLC board of directors, said the Rev. Markel Hutchins had the doors to the building on Auburn Avenue welded shut and chained on Monday night. Hutchins was recently appointed interim president of the 53-year-old SCLC by breakaway directors whose authority is not recognized by the remaining board around Tucker.
"This conduct is criminal and deplorable," Tucker said in a statement. "It is like a hate crime."
Tucker, who is based in Virginia, said the board of directors will investigate the incident. She said that Hutchins is not a board member or officer of the organization.
Hutchins acknowledged he had the building shut down but said he has done nothing illegal and was acting in his capacity as interim president and chief executive officer of the SCLC.
"I made the decision to secure the building," Hutchins said on Tuesday. "I am not responsible for the mess the SCLC is in, but I will be responsible for helping to right some of the wrongs and get the organization back on course to fulfill its mission."
Last fall, federal and local authorities launched an investigation into allegations of financial mismanagement of at least $569,000 by the SCLC chairman and treasurer, who deny the allegations and continue to challenge their dismissal by some board members.
Chairman Raleigh Trammell and Treasurer Spiver Gordon have not been criminally charged, but the SCLC has spent the past several months in court, wrangling over control of the organization. Last month, two factions both claiming to be the SCLC's board of directors met hundreds of miles apart and each claimed to make decisions in an attempt to save the group from its legal woes and bitter infighting.
The SCLC was co-founded by ministers Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Joseph Lowery and others in 1957 and was a leading force in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.