The police department in Central, Louisiana, has arrested the controversial pastor of Life Tabernacle Church, Tony Spell. The warrant for his arrest was issued on April 20 and accuses the pastor of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon following an incident captured on video in which Spell backed up his bus toward a protester, stopping just before it reached him. A video of the pastor being handcuffed has been shared by WAFB reporter Graham Ulkins.
The Central Police Department issued a statement on the arrest, which says, “This morning, Mark Anthony Spell, (Aka: Tony Spell), Pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in Central, turned himself in at Central Police Department and was arrested on one count of aggravated assault and improper backing. Spell was also a fugitive with outstanding traffic warrants in the city of Zachary and East Baton Rouge Parish. He will be booked into parish prison.”
The video of the incident with Spell backing up his bus shows that the vehicle stops just before hitting the protester. The video was posted on Twitter and can be viewed below:
Spell told WAFB in a phone interview that he wanted to confront the man but his wife was on the bus and talked him out of it. Spell said: “That man has been in front of my church driveway for three weeks now. He shoots people obscene finger gestures and shouts vulgarities.”
WAFB also spoke to the protester, Trey Bennett, who told them he had never used profanity or obscene hand gestures. He said he’d been protesting in front of Spell’s church since Easter, along with signs like “CAUTION: Coronavirus incubator. Do not enter. You may die.”
Spell Has Been Charged Previously With Misdemeanors After Holding Packed Sermons
This isn’t the pastor’s first run-in with the law. He has been previously charged with multiple misdemeanors for defying Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ order prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the order, Spell has continued to host sermons at his church with hundreds of people in attendance.
On March 31, the Central Police Department issued Spell, whose full name is Mark Anthony Spell, a misdemeanor summons for “six counts of violating the governor’s executive order following his decision to host multiple large gatherings.” The police department’s press release posted to Facebook stated:
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. Mr. Spell will have his day in court where he will be held responsible for his reckless and irresponsible decisions that endangered the health of his congregation and our community. 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.
In response, Spell said: “This is a scary time for our nation. Our religious freedoms are under persecution and attack. This is an attack on all Christians across the world. … If this is not about religion, then are the Waltons not being issued summons and arrested for keeping Walmart open? Nobody will tell us as God-fearing Christians and Americans that we are non-essential in our society.”
A Member of Spell’s Church Died of Coronavirus After Attending a Service, According to the Coroner
On April 15, the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner said that Harold Orillion died of COVID-19. The 78-year-old man was said to have attended Tony Spell’s Life Tabernacle Church, according to The Advocate. Spell confirmed that Orillion was a member of his church but told news sites that his death was not due to the virus and that the coroner’s report was “a lie.”
Spell’s lawyer, Jeff Wittenbrink, who was supposed to represent Spell and his church in court in a fight against the state’s social distancing rules on church gatherings, also contracted the virus. The lawyer, who was at two Life Tabernacle Church events in early April, is now reported to be at Baton Rouge General Hospital and on oxygen due to complications from the coronavirus.