Ann Hunnewell and her central Florida police officer husband knelt in the living room of a fellow officer's home, with pillow cases as makeshift hoods over their heads. A few words were spoken and they, along with a half-dozen others, were initiated into the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, she says.
Last week, that five-year-old initiation ceremony stunned residents of the small town of Fruitland Park, who found out an investigative report linked two city officers with the secret hate society that once was violently active in the area. Ann Hunnewell's ex-husband, George Hunnewell, was fired, and deputy chief David Borst resigned from the 13-member Fruitland Park Police Department. Borst has denied being a member.
James Elkins, a third officer who Ann Hunnewell says recruited her and her husband, resigned in 2010 after his Klan ties became public.
The violence against blacks that permeated the area was more than 60 years ago, when the place was more rural and the main industry was citrus. These days, the community of less than 5,000 residents about 50 miles northwest of Orlando has been infused by the thousands of wealthier, more cosmopolitan retirees in the area. Those who live in the bedroom community, which is less than 10 percent black, have reacted not only with shock, but disgust that officers could be involved with the Klan, the mayor said.
"Maybe I'm ignorant, but I didn't realize that they still met and organized and did that kind of thing," said Michele Lange, a church volunteer.