A Louisiana pastor who faces major backlash for hosting in-person church services in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic had a run-in with the law this week.
According to TMZ, Rev. Tony Spell was arrested by the cops on Tuesday and sent to jail for allegedly backing up a church bus towards a protestor. The Sunday incident was caught on video and a warrant for Spell’s arrest was issued on Monday.
The clip clearly shows a big white bus that Spell was allegedly driving as it reverses towards someone protesting Spell’s church gatherings. The vehicle nearly took the demonstrator out before coming to a holt.
According to TMZ, Spell turned himself in on Tuesday morning around 10:30 a.m. CT after Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran talked to his attorney. The pastor faces charges of aggravated assault and improper reversing.
According to WAFB9, he was eventually released from jail not too long after he was apprehended and a group of his members from Life Tabernacle Church greet outside to greet him. He said to them in a speech:
“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights. My rights to have church and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ are endowed to me by my creator, not my district attorney, not my chief of police, and not my governor, not my president and not my department of justice. My inalienable rights are given to me by God and those rights are my rights to assemble and have church. I cannot give up those rights.”
By the end of his message, he said that he plans on preaching at his church Tuesday evening.
Meanwhile, the person accusing Spell of backing towards him gave a detailed account to WAFB9.
“At first I thought he [Spell] was just turning around his bus and was going to pull away, but he just kept coming in reverse,” said Trey Bennett, the demonstrator. “I could see him [Spell] driving the bus. He was honking his horn loudly at me and making gestures suggesting he was yelling while he was driving. It didn’t seem real until it was physically in my face with a bus.”
A second warrant was also issued for the driver of another person driving a white truck that appears to swerve off the road in a separate attempt to hit the protestor standing on the side of the road close to the church.
“And he [man in white truck] was going very fast. He just pulled over at me and turned into the church. That was much faster than what Tony Spell was doing when he drove the bus at me,” explained Bennett.
Spell has faced multiple misdemeanor counts of defying an order by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards that prohibits gatherings of more than ten people during the coronavirus pandemic. Since the governors order was issued in March, Spell has hosted multiple in-person services with hundreds of people attending. Eventually, an elderly member of his church died from the coronavirus the week of April 13, according to a coroner’s report. Spell called the coroner’s report “a lie” and said the man died from other medical conditions.
Bennet said he was protesting Spell’s church to “raise awareness so that people will demand that this place [Life Tabernacle] gets closed down.”
In a Monday telephone interview with WAFB, Spell acknowledged that he was driving the bus in the video involving the protestor. But he simply wanted to get out and confront the demonstrator. However, he says his wife talked him out of it.
“That man has been in front of my church driveway for three weeks now,” Spell said. “He shoots people obscene finger gestures and shouts vulgarities.”
Spell went on to say he was trying to help “Black children” before the confrontation with Bennett.
“I was pulling in from my bus route, picking up Black children who haven’t eaten because of this sinister policy that has closed schools,” he said. “I was going to approach this gentleman and ask him to leave.”
Bennett denies ever using profanity or presenting obscene gestures. He argues that he’s been peacefully protesting Bennett’s church since Easter Sunday.