BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Members of Life Tabernacle Church in Central waited at the gate of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison for Pastor Tony Spell to be released, which happened just hours after his arrest.
“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.”
He concluded by saying he intends on preaching at his church Tuesday evening.
“Thank God for my church who stands with me today,” he said.
He was taken into custody Tuesday morning, April 21. He is accused of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, the Central Police Department says. He was booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison and was released around noon.
Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran said Spell initially requested for officers to meet him at his church, but Corcoran declined, saying he wanted to avoid media showboating. Spell was told to turn himself in at the police station. The building is closed, so the arrest was made in the parking lot.
Police in Central say Spell allegedly backed up a church bus into the direction of a person protesting in front of his church Sunday.
“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 protester.
Video of the alleged incident shows the bus coming to a stop just short of where the protester was standing.
“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,” said Bennett.
There is also a second warrant out for the arrest of the person driving a white truck that appears to swerve off the road in a separate attempt to hit a protester standing on the side of the road near 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,” said Bennett.
Spell has previously been charged with multiple misdemeanor counts of defying an order by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards that prohibits gatherings of more than ten people during the coronavirus outbreak.
In a telephone interview with WAFB Monday, April 20, Spell acknowledged he was driving the bus and simply wanted to get out and confront the protester.
However, Spell says, his wife, who was also on the bus at the time, 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.”
“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,” the pastor said. “I was going to approach this gentleman and ask him to leave.”
The protester, Trey Bennett, denies ever using profanity or displaying obscene gestures. Bennett says he has been peacefully protesting in front of Spell’s church since Easter Sunday.
“I haven’t done anything of the sort. I just stand there with a sign. I don’t say anything to anybody,” said Bennett.
Bennett says he holds several different signs as he protests. One of his signs reads: “CAUTION: Coronavirus incubator. Do not enter. You may die.”
Bennett says he just wants Pastor Spell to stop holding services and jeopardizing the health of the community.
“Just trying to raise awareness so that people will demand that this place [Life Tabernacle] gets closed down,” said Bennett.
The Central Police Department issued the warrant Monday.
“Earlier today, Chief Roger Corcoran with Central Police Department issued a warrant for the arrest of Mark Anthony Spell (AKA: Tony Spell), Pastor of Life Tabernacle Church, for aggravated assault based on video evidence of an incident that occurred on April 19, 2020,” a police department spokesman said.
Since the governor’s order was issued in March, Spell has held numerous sermons with hundreds in attendance at his church.
An elderly member of Spell’s church died of coronavirus the week of April 13, a coroner’s report said. Spell, who called the coroner’s report “a lie,” says the man died of other medical issues.
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