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Controversial Pastor Tony Spell Arrested On Assault Charges

Paul Braun
Pastor Tony Spell addressing the media Tuesday outside Central Police Headquarters in Louisiana.

The controversial pastor of Life Tabernacle Church, whose defiance of a statewide ban on large public gatherings garnered national media attention, was arrested today on aggravated assault charges stemming from an encounter with a man protesting in front of his Central, Louisiana church.

For more than a month, Spell has said he would not obey Governor John Bel Edwards’ executive order prohibiting public gatherings of more than 50 people, aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. More than 1,400 Louisianans have been killed by the disease caused by the virus-- including an elderly member of Life Tabernacle Church.

Arrest documents allege that Pastor Tony Spell nearly backed a church bus over a man protesting in front of the church Sunday evening.

The affidavit for Spell’s arrest warrant said the protestor “was in fear for his life because he thought the bus wasn’t going to stop.”

The protestor, who lives across the street from the church, provided police and members of the media with a video of the incident captured on a home surveillance camera. It shows the bus driving in reverse on the shoulder of Hooper Road in front of the church and stopping abruptly about five feet from the protestor.

Spell has argued that the prohibition violates his right to assemble and freely practice his religion. His services have drawn hundreds of congregants and throngs of protestors.

Spell planned to turn himself in Tuesday morning after addressing the media and his congregants in front of the Central Police Department Headquarters. But before he could speak, Spell was handcuffed and taken into custody. He was booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.

Dozens of church members arrived at the jail in a fleet of ten church buses. They sang hymns and danced in their Sunday best while they waited for Spell to be released on bond.

“My unalienable rights are given to me by God,” a defiant Spell said to a chorus of cheers and amens. “I will not give up my right to have church. I will not give up my rights to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

He then urged his congregants to join him at the church that evening for his regularly scheduled Tuesday worship service.

The Central Police Department has previously cited Spell with six misdemeanor infractions for violating the state’s temporary ban on large gatherings.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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