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Murrieta Lawyers Sue CHP When Men Arrested for Reading Bible

Three men from Calvary Chapel Hemet were arrested in February while gathering to read the Bible outside the Hemet DMV.

A Murrieta law firm is suing California Highway Patrol and one of its officers because three members of Calvary Chapel Hemet were arrested while reading the Bible aloud in a DMV parking lot in Hemet.

Advocates for Faith & Freedom filed a complaint April 25 with the United States District Court Riverside Courthouse, alleging the federal and state constitutional rights of the three men were violated when they were arrested unlawfully.

"We look at it as this is the United States of America and it was obvious that this officer acted before he thought," said Bob Tyler, one of the attorneys representing the men.

Pastor Brett Coronado, Mark Mackey and Edmond Flores, Jr., all residents of Hemet, were assembled at the DMV Feb. 2 just after 8 a.m. when Mackey began reading scripture aloud. The DMV was scheduled to open at 9 a.m.

As shown in video footage captured during the arrest, a security guard tells the men they need to go somewhere else. Shortly after, a CHP officer pulls up, walks over to the men, takes a Bible out of Mackey's hands and puts handcuffs on him. When asking why he was being arrested, Tyler said the CHP officer, Darren Meyer, did not give an answer.

"The first question is: did he ask him to leave? He did not," Tyler said.

The two other men where arrested shortly after, and all were taken to a CHP Inspection Facility in Beaumont where they were held in handcuffs for 90 minutes, according to a complaint filed by Advocates for Faith & Freedom. Neither Coronado nor Flores ever read the Bible out loud anywhere on DMV premises, their attorneys claim.

According to California Penal Code 602.1 (b), the offense is listed as: "intentionally interfering with any lawful business carried on by the employees of a public agency open to the public, by obstructing or intimidating those attempting to carry on business, or those persons there to transact business with the public agency, and who refuses to leave the premises of the public agency after being requested to leave by the office manager or a supervisor of the public agency, or by a peace officer acting at the request of the office manager or a supervisor of the public agency."

The misdemeanor offense is punishable by a $400 fine or jail time. None of the men received jail time in the matter, and the law firm said the Riverside County District Attorney has not filed any criminal charges.

According to a news release from Advocates for Faith & Freedom, the men believed that they had a First Amendment right to free speech as they were standing in a planter within the parking lot and were located on public property.

According to Tyler, the charge of “impeding an open business” was enacted in large part to protect businesses against protestors who block the doors of an open business, such as at an abortion clinic. At the time of the arrest of these men, the DMV was closed, and they were standing at least 50 feet away from the entrance, he said.

“This is an abuse of power on the part of the CHP,” said Jennifer Monk, associate attorney with Advocates for Faith & Freedom. “The arresting officer could find no appropriate penal code to use when arresting these men. The purpose of the arrests appears to have been to censor them.”
 
"Whether this was an intentional violation of our clients' constitutional liberty or whether this was an act of ignorance on the part of the CHP, this lawsuit is important in order to preserve the liberty to read the Bible aloud on public property without fear of criminal prosecution,” Tyler said.

Lt. Michael Soubirous, of the San Gorgonio Pass CHP Station, which oversees the Hemet area, said during a phone interview Tuesday that they had not yet been served papers in the lawsuit. Soubirous explained that CHP has jurisdiction over state-owned property such as DMV offices.

"The whole thing is, when you go to the DMV, you are not allowed to do any other business," Soubirous said. 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 believes 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.

Bill Burchard April 29, 2011 at 06:16 PM
Hi Robert, Thanks for weighing in on the conversation. I support upholding our First Amendment right of free speech, as well as free exercise of religion. What I find objectionable is the manner the three men chose to exercise their right of free speech: reading verses from the Bible to a captive audience. People gathering at the DMV weren’t gathering to hear verses read from the Judeo-Christian Bible. They were gathering as a requirement of the State. Is this type of act protected by freedom of speech? I don’t know the answer, but it will be interesting to watch this lawsuit unfold in the courts. I assume the three men were well intentioned, hoping to share their religious beliefs and enlighten others. However, I suspect they achieved the opposite effect, annoying people who had no choice but to be subjected to their proselytizing. That's too bad, because given the proper venue, there may have been some who would like to engage the three in dialog and learn more about Christianity. I encourage the three men to think about the impact their proselytizing has on the people they hope to serve, and to rethink where and when they go out into the masses to Share the Word. If they could find a venue where others are free to choose whether to listen to their speech, or just walk away, then it may go much further in achieving their goals and truly, positively impacting other's lives. As the old saying goes, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."
E.Baker May 02, 2011 at 09:32 AM
I don't believe these men should have been arrested. I support them filing a lawsuit. After watching the video I was in shock how the CHP conducted himself and how reactive he was to the circumstance. The men were within their constitutional rights to read the Bible out loud and this case needs to be fought all the way to protect these rights. Addressing this injustice will only help insure everyone's rights in the long run,regardless of your beliefs.
Chris June 06, 2011 at 10:05 PM
They were clearly asked to leave by the security guard. The man told the guard to "do what you have to do" but he would keep reading. The only reason the D.A. did not file is because this is Riverside C0unty and they rarely file on low-level misdemeanor cases like this; the courts here are too backed up. Beyond the trespassing, they could have gotten unlawful assembly charges. Whether it was this, a Quran reading, or a vacuum cleaner demonstration... state property is not the same as any other street corner.
laweisgerber August 07, 2011 at 02:28 PM
From a public safety standpoint, it doesn't make very good sense to allow christians to preach to a crowd standing in front of the DMV. If Christians preach, then Muslims become irritated. If Muslims become irritated, then Jews die. If Jews die, then Jehovah Witnesses feel vindicated. If Jehovah Witnesses feel vindicated, then Mormons are empowered. If Mormons become empowered, then Mitt Romney gets elected. If Mitt Romney gets elected, then Huckabee becomes his running mate and the circle of life is once again restored. THEN the CHP will become the Christian Schutzstaffel. They will force everyone to wear magical mormon underwear while they recite biblical verses in front of the DMV!! (Oh, sweet justice. How precious are your subtle ironies.)
laweisgerber August 07, 2011 at 03:01 PM
You know? Just an afterthought to tickle your senses. Here goes: Compare the "criminals" in that video to the real criminals you and I see everyday. If criminals were more like these christian "offenders", then I'm PRETTY SURE the number of officer involved shootings and arrest related injuries would certainly be almost nonexistent. Have you ever seen a crackhead, who is in possession of narcotics and a gun, preaching the gospel? Or a hooker who is carrying a needle, some tar heroin and a pocket new testament, praying and reading scripture in front of a motel? (Officer speaking) Um, maam. I noticed you walking up and down the street in front of that seedy motel and I heard you preaching the gospel. I couldn't help but wonder if you are carrying drugs and hooking? (Crack Ho says) Ooooh, baby! You caught me!! NOW, just go on and put those nice silver bracelets on my wrists. I ain't nothin' but a single, female entrepreneur who loves telling everybody about Jesus while I work. But baby, I know God has you working as a minister of His righteousness and I respect His authority, so you go ahead on and let yo wheels of justice roll right over me!

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