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Judge Acquits Men Arrested for Reading Bible Aloud Outside DMV

Brett Anthony Coronado, 44, and Mark Allen Mackey, 60, were both found not guilty of one misdemeanor count. They had been arrested by a CHP officer on Feb. 2, 2011, outside the Hemet DMV.

This screenshot of a YouTube video shows Mark Mackey being arrested Feb. 2, 2011 outside the DMV office in Hemet, Calif. (YouTube)
This screenshot of a YouTube video shows Mark Mackey being arrested Feb. 2, 2011 outside the DMV office in Hemet, Calif. (YouTube)

Two former members of a Hemet church arrested for reading Bible passages outside a DMV office were acquitted of demonstrating on government property without a permit, attorneys on both sides confirmed today.

Brett Anthony Coronado, 44, and Mark Allen Mackey, 60, were both found not guilty of one misdemeanor count of conducting a demonstration on state grounds without a permit. They were arrested Feb. 2, 2011, outside the DMV office at 1200 S. State St. in Hemet and later freed on their own recognizance.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer acquitted Coronado and Mackey before the defense had presented its case, ruling that there wasn't enough evidence to prove that the men conducted a demonstration or gathering, according to defense co-counsel Robert Tyler.

The court trial -- a case tried without a jury -- started Aug. 5 at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta and ended Tuesday.

"I think this was the correct and the lawful decision. These two men were just exercising their First Amendment right to free speech, simply sharing their faith on public property, and criminal charges should never have been filed," Nic Cocis, the defendants' other attorney, told City News Service.

Tyler said their clients "were convinced they didn't do anything wrong, they didn't need a permit to do what they were doing, and the judge agreed."

Shortly after 8 on the morning of their arrests, Coronado, a former assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel in Hemet, and Mackey, who worked in the church's evangelical ministries, stood about 50 feet away from the DMV office, in the parking lot, and read passages from the New Testament.

In a YouTube video, Coronado said the purpose was to spread the gospel to the people lined up outside, waiting for the DMV to open.

As Mackey was reading, a DMV security guard approached and ordered him "to go some place else." Mackey refused and continued reading, with Coronado at his side, the video shows.

Twenty minutes later, California Highway Patrol Officer Darren Meyer arrived at the location, and after briefly conferring with the security guard, confronted Mackey, snatched his Bible, handed it to Coronado and arrested Mackey on suspicion of trespassing, according to the video and court documents.

"What have I done wrong?" Mackey asks in the video.

"You've been asked to leave, and you didn't," Meyer replies. "You can preach on your own property. You can preach on a street corner. But you're not allowed to preach here because this is a captive audience."

When Coronado asks Meyer to cite the specific statute that Mackey has violated, the CHP officer replies, "You want to go, too? I'm giving you the option: You want to leave or you want to be arrested?"

A few minutes later, another CHP officer arrived and arrested Coronado on suspicion of impeding a business. Another member of the ministry, Edmond Flores, also was taken into custody, but was not charged.

Coronado, Mackey and Flores filed a civil liberties lawsuit less than two months later, alleging Meyer, and by extension the CHP, had violated their First, Fourth and 14th amendment rights, along with the "liberty" clause of the California Constitution.

"Defendant, the CHP and the DMV all have engaged in the selective enforcement of a vague, overbroad and discretionary process of determining what expression will be allowed, and their enforcement has been inconsistent and viewpoint discriminatory," according to the suit, which is being handled on behalf of the plaintiffs by Murrieta-based Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a nonprofit law firm that handles religious liberty cases.

"In this instance, defendant prohibited plaintiffs' expressive activity because they were reading from the Bible and expressing religious viewpoints," the suit alleges. "Defendant's actions ... were harmful to plaintiffs because it violated their right to free speech ... under the United States Constitution."

The complaint alleges the men were victims of false imprisonment and asks the court to declare religious speech outside the DMV office lawful, and to prohibit Meyer and any other state law enforcement official from arresting people for trespassing without justification.

Meyer, now the public information officer for the CHP's San Gorgonio office in Beaumont, sought  immediate dismissal of the lawsuit based on federal judicial findings that law enforcement officers acting within their official capacity cannot be sued for carrying out their duty.

Meyer's CHP supervisor at the time, Lt. Michael Soubirous, defended the officer's actions.

"The whole thing is, when you go to the DMV, you are not allowed to do any other business," Soubirous told Patch in April 2011.

He said the men did not have a permit to speak there, which is required on state property for anything other than the intended business.

"We would have granted them a permit to go out and preach," Soubirous said. "There is a mechanism to be allowed to protest...We don't inhibit people's right to free speech--we regulate it."

He said he believed the group was aware of the permitting process, and that CHP officers had had prior contact with them.

He added that the same principles apply to a DMV office as do at the State Capitol building, which is also under the jurisdiction of CHP.

"I do know that what goes on at the State Capitol, where they have 15 protests a day, may seem foreign to groups here," Soubirous said at the time.

In September 2011, Los Angeles-based U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee suspended further hearings on the suit until the criminal case against Coronado and Mackey was resolved. Tyler, general counsel for Advocates for Faith and Freedom, said today his firm would tell the federal court they are ready to proceed.

He told City News Service he thought the criminal prosecution of Coronado and Mackey "was somewhat retaliatory because we filed a federal lawsuit."

"They were really just trumped-up charges to try to prosecute our clients and we believe we'll be able to proceed forward with this (lawsuit)," he alleged.

Riverside County District Attorney's Office spokesman John Hall said his office believes the judge "was incorrect in his analysis of the law as it relates to this issue. We are looking into whether or not we have any appellate remedy."

The lawsuit was filed in April 2011 and the criminal charge filed in August 2011. 

The criminal case was heard by a judge, according to Hall, because the defense had requested that and both sides waived their right to a jury trial.

Cocis said Coronado and Mackey are now with another church.

—City News Service and Maggie Avants contributed to this report.

LBV Collins August 16, 2013 at 01:05 AM
"The Christian men might then Point out the places in the Torah that foretell the coming of the messiah. Then try to explain to the Jewish man how Jesus is the messiah promised in the Torah." ...In other words, the Christian men wouldn't like it so they would argue with the Jewish man reading from the Torah. Glad to see you and I agree, Clem.
Cousin Clem August 16, 2013 at 04:46 AM
@LBV No! I see it as saying two things. No the Christian men would recognize the other man has the same constitutional right to read his Torah as they do to read from the New Testament about Jesus. They may want to tell him about how Jesus fulfilled certain Torah prophecy already and will come back to fulfill the rest. (I know some Christians will say he already fulfilled them all).
J Kleiner August 16, 2013 at 12:02 PM
Conservatives claim that Illegal Immigrants are breaking our laws by existing here, no matter what their situation is......BUT....when it comes to their ideology or Christian beliefs, they expect everyone should ignore the laws......hypocrisy? YES. Typical of their conservative extremism.
Cousin Clem August 17, 2013 at 04:20 AM
Liberals, conservative, libertarians, environmentalists, industrialists, some drug store chains, spies, police, prosecutors, judges, various federal agents, drug task forces members and leaders, congress persons, city officials, The Army, The Navy, the Air Force, tax assessors, income tax officials, income tax agency personal at the top denying appropriate legal status conservative groups, NSA spying on citizens and lying about it. Opponents of medical marijuana are trying to ban dispensaries with blatant lies, or truths out of context so they have the effect of lies. Wow! I could go on and on like this, AND I KNOW OF EXAMPLES OF EVERYTHING I HAVE MENTIONED HERE. I am not saying that everyone in these agencies is corrupt, but there does seem to be too much lying going on.
Justice For All August 17, 2013 at 06:26 PM
@Clem... Nothing sensational here. This is simply the moral decay of our society. I doubt that we'll ever be able to reverse it even with all the latest trends of improving "transparency." The truth is usually much uglier than the lie. And, in the immortal words of Col. Nathan R. Jessup, "you can't handle the truth!"

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