My dear friends, I DESPERATELY need your help. Ricky and I safely returned to the United States nearly two weeks ago, bringing to a conclusion our 13-month journey that literally took us around the globe and resulted in the distribution of more than 150,000 pieces of Gospel material in 18 countries. The Lord is good.
Unfortunately, though having proclaimed Jesus Christ in Communist, Muslim, and various other countries this past year without rights guaranteeing freedom, or in the face of laws specifically banning the preaching of the Gospel, I wasn’t made to face arrest until returning to the United States.
This past week, my family and I, along with Ricky Springer (my faithful traveling and preaching partner), have been down in Surf City, North Carolina, enjoying a little down time on the beach in a house that someone rented for us. Earlier in the week, we met a local brother who was excited about the work we had been doing and wanted to join us for some evangelism on the local streets. So, on July 4th, after I preached on the sidewalk in downtown Surf City for more than an hour, this young man called and invited us up to the small town of Holly Ridge (about 7 miles north) where there was a scheduled fireworks display in a public park. We were weary and thought to decline the invitation, but ultimately decided otherwise so as to be an encouragement to this young man who obviously had a heart for evangelism. So, Ricky and I met up with this brother in the Holly Ridge Municipal Park and began to distribute Gospel tracts to the hundreds of people who were gathered and waiting for the fireworks display.
In the park, there were lots of people milling around, loud music, and some drinking. Nevertheless, Ricky walked around preaching with a small speaker attached to his belt for nearly half an hour. Later, as I distributed tracts to passersby at a busy junction in the park, Ricky came and stood under a tree and continued preaching, our intention being to preach until the fireworks started and then to resume when the show was over. Police were everywhere and allowed this to go on for quite some time without a problem. However, when a local who had been drinking approached Ricky and started harassing him, things changed.
I intervened where the local was concerned and told the man to leave us alone despite violent threats issuing from his mouth. He tried to get me to “step outside” and fight him, but I replied: “Sorry sir, I didn’t come here to fight people; I came here to love people.” As soon as I said these words, SERGEANT KEITH WHALEY of the Holly Ridge Police Department made a beeline for Ricky and told him that he would be arrested if he didn’t shut the microphone off and stop preaching. This officer was extremely rude, abrasive, and hostile; and he kept cutting Ricky off as he tried to get an understanding of how the law was being broken. I walked up to see what was going on, and immediately the above mentioned officer accused me of getting in his face and threatened: “I am backing up; if you take another step toward me, you will go to jail.” I asked him what law we were breaking, and he just replied that we would be arrested if we continued. Sgt. Whaley then stormed off. At that moment, someone began to sing the national anthem followed by the fireworks. So, we turned off the speaker out of respect and ceased preaching.
While the preaching was “on hold,” I called 911 and requested that a supervising officer be sent to Holly Ridge Park because I feared our constitutional rights were being violated. Moreover, it had become obvious that Sgt. Whaley was unapproachable for discussion. The dispatcher promised to send someone over soon.
About 10 minutes later, Sgt. Whaley returned with another officer and walked right up to Ricky as he was simply conversing with a few local believers. He told him: “If you turn that speaker back on, you are in violation of a noise ordinance and will be arrested. You better not turn it back on.” I then re-entered the conversation and told Sgt. Whaley that we would no longer speak with him and had requested a superior officer. Immediately, the other officer replied: “I’m the Chief of Police, I’m the Chief of Police.” I said, “Ok sir, I will speak with you.” I then tried to ascertain the nature of the noise ordinance and how they could measure if we were in violation of said ordinance (Keep in mind that the speaker was small and only allowed us to be heard about 25 feet away over all the music and noise). I was told that there was no decibel level and that the officers would simply determine us to be in violation. I reminded them that blanket prohibitions on amplified speech are unconstitutional (U.S. Supreme Court, Saia v. New York, 1948) and then asked if Holly Ridge had a blanket prohibition on the use of speakers. They said “No.” I replied, “What law then are we breaking?” Confused, I continued to press for an explanation of how the law was being transgressed, and at this point, we got the video up and running.
In that moment, the speaker was attached to Ricky’s belt and was powered off. Moreover, we were not distributing Gospel tracts or doing any preaching. I called to the officers as they were walking away and rebuked them for what I believe was “singling us out,” and an unprofessional manner.
After I bluntly told these men to “repent,” the two officers (Sgt. Keith Whaley and the man who identified himself as the Chief of Police) made a beeline back to me and put me in handcuffs. They then led me to a police car without ever formally informing me that I was under arrest. I was never told specifically what I was being charged with; and they certainly never read me any Miranda Rights. Instead of being transported to the local city jail, Sgt. Whaley drove me more than 20 miles to the county jail in Jacksonville, NC. At the county magistrate, I was left in handcuffs and put in a holding cell for more than an hour. Outside, Sgt. Whaley and the magistrate discussed how they could write up a legitimate charge. I was then transported over to the Onslow County Jail and detained until my wife could travel up to Jacksonville from Surf City and post a $500.00 bond.
Upon receiving a copy of the charge of disorderly conduct levied against me, I was shocked and astounded at the lies contained therein. It reads:
. . . the defendant named above unlawfully and willfully did intentionally cause a public disturbance at the Holly Ridge Park, by making utterances and using abusive language, intended and plainly likely to provoke immediate violent retaliation and thereby causing a breach of the peace. The acts of the defendant were directed toward Sergeant K Whaley and other Holly Ridge Police Department Officers and consisted of when told to stop talking with bullhorns during the Independence Day Firework Display at the park, defendant refused to stop and called officers Communists and other names and kept talking increasingly loud.
Any police officer that could conjure up such a bogus charge tainted with outright lies should be immediately suspended and has no business serving on a police force in a democratic country that boasts freedom of speech. Never did I even use the speaker in that park, and it was powered off and on Ricky’s belt when I was arrested. Moreover, I wasn’t aware that the words “repent” and “shame on you” are considered abusive language that incite violence. I never called any of the aforementioned officers any names, and even if I had called them “Communists,” so what? The only “threats” that ever came from my mouth were warnings that we would use the court system if they didn’t leave us alone. This bogus charge is nothing more than a thug policeman venting his hatred for the Gospel and abusing his authority, and a police chief choosing to back said officer instead of respecting the law and someone’s freedom of speech. Keep in mind that there were lots of rowdy and intoxicated people in this park, and these were ignored.
The above exchange began to be videotaped as I pressed the man who had identified himself as Chief of Police for an explanation of how Ricky was breaking the law. It shows my rebuke, the arrest, and then the harassment of Ricky who wished to remain anonymous. The video cuts off as the man who identified himself as the Chief of Police again grabs Ricky’s arms and tries to knock the camera out of his hand. After this, Ricky was threatened with arrest if he did not surrender his identification. He adamantly refused, maintaining that he wished to protect his anonymity and wasn’t required by law to surrender his driver’s license unless he was being put under arrest for a crime. The man claiming to be the Chief eventually capitulated and walked away. Judge for yourselves, does the exchange below warrant the charge posted above:
arrested in holly ridge, nc
Below, you will find a link to some brief footage of Ricky preaching in the very spot just prior to our encounter with the police. As you can clearly see, there was no disturbing of the police or any inciting of violence:
preaching in holly ridge, nc
Because I have been charged with a criminal offense and have a court date on August 30th in a town more than six hours from my home, I am concerned that this matter will affect my ability to leave the country and carry out some already-planned missionary work in Argentina later this year. We need to do everything in our power to get these bogus charges dropped. Below is contact information for the Holly Ridge Police Department and the Onslow County District Attorney. PLEASE HELP US FLOOD THESE OFFICES WITH TELEPHONE CALLS AND EMAILS, expressing concern over these bogus charges and demanding that they be dropped. Keep in mind, seeing as the formal charges in my hands are so full of lies, there is no way to know what these people will say in terms of recapping the events. Notwithstanding, please express concern over the targeting of those that preach the Gospel and demand that Sergeant Keith Whaley be immediately suspended for his actions and clear abuse of authority. Police departments and District Attorneys need to hear from Christians when stuff like this happens to insure the freedom of others that may come along later with a desire to openly share the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. A flood of calls and emails has worked before in other such incidents; let’s get it to work again. Thanks, in advance, for your help and concern. Moreover, thanks for all your prayers this past year: from the work in Africa to the beating in Kathmandu’s Ratna Park, from the mob violence in Bangladesh to our smuggling of Bibles and Gospel materials into Tibet. The Lord heard your prayers and did a mighty work. I look forward to sharing more detail with you in the near future concerning our homeward journey through Tibet, China, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan. It was glorious. Here is the contact information:
Holly Ridge, NC Police Department
Tel: (910) 329-4076
John Maiorano, Chief of Police
Sergeant Keith Whaley
Office of the District Attorney, Onslow County
Tel: (910) 478-3610
For the Word of God and the Testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ,
P.S. Please pray for wisdom as I have to figure something out in terms of legal representation.