Police issue arrest warrant for Louisiana pastor who held services despite state order after video shows him driving toward protester

The police department of Central, La., has issued an arrest warrant for pastor Tony Spell, accusing him of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after footage surfaced that appeared to show Spell reversing a church bus toward a protester.

In footage of the incident obtained by local CBS affiliate WAFB, the bus could be seen reversing down a stretch of pavement before stopping several feet away from the man protesting outside Life Tabernacle Church near Baton Rouge, which has made national headlines over its refusal to stop holding services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Darren Sibley, assistant chief of the Central Police Department, told The Hill on Monday night that a judge signed off an arrest warrant issued earlier in the day that charges Spell with aggravated assault after he allegedly “backed his bus down the shoulder of the road way near where a protester [was] standing.”

The official said the protester contacted the police department in addition to a witness he said “observed the incident and provided video footage of the incident in question.”

The pastor confirmed to WAFB on Monday night that he was the person driving the bus and that he wanted to confront the man, who has been identified as Trey Bennett, before his wife advised him not to.

“That man has been in front of my church driveway for three weeks now,” he told the station. “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,” he continued. “I was going to approach this gentleman and ask him to leave.”

Bennett pushed back on Spell’s claims in an interview with WAFB and maintained that his protests have been peaceful.

Spell has refused to discontinue in-person services in the wake of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’s (D) stay-at-home order, which directed residents to avoid large gatherings to limit the spread of COVID-19.

He has been given a misdemeanor summons for six counts of violating the mandate.

The Central Police Department said in a Facebook post announcing those charges late last month that the pastor “made his intentions to continue to violate the law clear.”

“Instead of showing the strength and resilience of our community during this difficult time, Mr. Spell has chosen to embarrass us for his own self-promotion,” the department said then, adding, “This is not an issue over religious liberty, and it’s not about politics. We are facing a public health crisis and expect our community’s leaders to set a positive example and follow the law.” 

Spell also garnered attention earlier this month after he announced plans to hold a large service during Easter despite the outbreak, saying then, “Satan and a virus will not stop us.”

Updated at 9:31 p.m.

Tags Coronavirus

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