Central pastor charged, hires controversial judge as attorney
CENTRAL – Pastor Tony Spell, the leader of Life Tabernacle Church who has defied a state-wide stay at home order and has held Sunday service amid growing coronavirus cases, was issued a misdemeanor summons to appear in court for violating the state's ban on large crowds amid the growing coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world.
Since the governor's order banning large gatherings and telling people to stay at home and only leave for essential activities, Spell has held six services at his Central campus.
He was given the summons for six counts of rule violations, which is considered an arrest, police said, for each of the six gatherings.
Central Police issued what are essentially tickets, though amount to an arrest in the eyes of the court, Tuesday.
Wednesday morning, the district attorney's office in East Baton Rouge signed off on the charges, filing all six with the court through what's called a bill of information. The charges are related to services with large gatherings held at the Central church on March 17; two services - one in the morning and one in the evening of March 22; March 24 and two services again on March 29.
Tuesday night, just hours after being served with the court summons, Spell again invited hundreds of people to his church for an evening service.
Police previously said after the arrest, court officials would have to take the next step: "It's about the safety of our community; [The charge and what happens next] is in the hands of the district attorney and the courts now," police said during a news conference live on WBRZ News 2 at Noon Tuesday.
DA Hillar Moore told WBRZ that if Spell does hold more services, like he did on Tuesday night, it's up to law enforcement to address the situation as they see fit.
Spell previously said he sees church congregations as essential in the trying times of the rapid virus spread.
Police responded: "We tried to give him a chance to do what's right."
Spell hired ex-judge and Alabama politician Roy Moore to represent him. Spell said he and Moore will hold a news conference Thursday.
EDITORIAL NOTE: WBRZ will not broadcast defiant Central pastor’s remarks today - Instead, we’ll pass along any pertinent information on TV and online through our team of journalists. Watch News 2 at Noon, 4, 5, 6, 6:30, 10 and 10:30.
Spell appeared on Dr. Phil's TV show seen on WBRZ Channel 2 Thursday (3/26). Last week on the TV show, he vowed to continue holding church service.
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“We feel that we are as an essential part of our community as the retail stores,” he said in the recorded interview with Dr. Phil.
Spell claims up to a thousand people join him at the church across the street from Blackwater Conservation Area on Hooper Road, though law enforcement sources believe far fewer have actually attended.
“It is in persecution of the faith for us to be asked to close our doors whenever more people are being contacted in those Targets and Walmarts than are in my service,” Spell said in the Dr. Phil episode.
Dr. Phil is seen daily on WBRZ Channel 2 at 3 p.m. followed by WBRZ News 2 at 4:00.
Click HERE to see more video of the interview from the Dr. Phil show website.
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