■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter
Six years ago, Pastor Brett Coronado, Edmond Flores, and Mark Mackey of Calvary Chapel Hemet were arrested on Feb. 2, 2011 for reading the Bible aloud, in front of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, here in Hemet. The case has since generated national buzz, with news coverage provided by media outlets such as Fox News.
This year, on Jan. 11, three federal appellate judges in the Ninth Circuit issued their final ruling, rejecting a lower court’s opinion that favored Meyer, rebuking the claims made in his police report:
“Upon arrival, Meyer encountered Mackey reading his bible aloud in a dirt patch, neither obstructing nor intimidating anyone in line. Meyer avers that Mackey was “yelling at the people waiting in line,” “that there was obvious verbal confrontation between the group of men and the people standing in line,” and that the “confrontation was heated and nearing a physical state.” That version of events is completely belied by video and audio footage which does not reveal any confrontations whatsoever, and merely shows Mackey reading the bible aloud somewhat apart from people standing in line.”
“Justice still prevails,” voiced Mackey after the ruling. “I’m glad our country is going in the right direction.”
CHP Officer Darren Meyer made the arrest in 2011, and initially claimed the men could not “preach to a captive audience,” as he grabbed the Bible away. A peculiar allegation, considering there is no such penal code – a fact the men acknowledged at the scene. Later in his police report, Meyer cited the three men for violation of California Penal Code Section 602.1(b), a state law that forbids the interference with an open business through obstruction or intimidation.
Pastor Coronado recorded video footage of the entire incident. The footage shows Mackey (standing beside Flores), reading a scripture from the book of Romans aloud to the nearby line of people waiting outside the DMV, which had yet to open for the day. The men were standing at least 40 feet from the building’s entrance when a DMV security guard told them that they “need to go somewhere else.” Mackey responded that he would “keep reading” and told the guard “you do what you need to do.” Several moments later, Officer Meyer approached the men, grabbed the Bible and handed it to Flores, informing Mackey that he was under arrest. When Mackey asked what he had done wrong, Meyer maintained that they were “not allowed to preach to a captive audience.” Coronado and Flores were arrested shortly after, when a second officer arrived to the scene.
Not long after the release of Meyer’s police report, Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a non-profit law firm that specializes in religious liberty, filed a federal lawsuit against California Highway Patrol for unlawful arrest, asserting violations of the United States Constitution. Robert Tyler, General Counsel of Advocates for Faith & Freedom, says that he gave the opposition a chance to relinquish their charges before the lawsuit, had they agreed that the arrest was unlawful, even offering to dismiss all attorney fees. CHP declined, and the lawsuit was filed.
In response, Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach retaliated, and charged the men with “trespassing” on State property, a misdemeanor offense under Title 13 of the California Administrative Code, Section 1860(a): “No person shall hold or conduct any demonstration or gathering in or upon any state buildings or grounds unless a permit has been issued by the Department.” The State criminal trial began on August 5, 2013, and was only expected to last four to five days. Tyler, joined by criminal defense attorney Nic Cocis of Murrieta, defended Coronado and Mackey (for reasons unknown, Flores was not prosecuted).
“The D.A. failed to prove that there was a demonstration or a gathering there,” spoke Tyler about the 2013 trial. Additionally, Officer Meyer neither testified in the State criminal trial, nor did he show up in court. It is worth noting that a month after the incident, on March 28, 2011, Meyer returned to the scene, to re-interview a witness (the DMV security guard), to “clarify additional details regarding the incident,” and included the additional information in a following supplemental to the initial arrest report.
In the supplemental, Meyer cites the guard’s descriptions of the church group as “offensive and aggressive,” stating that the men were “belittling and offending the customers which were held captive as they stood in line to conduct state business – not wanting to give up their place in line.” The supplemental also provides other accounts of encounters unrelated “but similar” to the February incident, that suggest the group from Calvary Chapel have partaken in disruptive preaching and “provoked arguments” in the past.
“He completely fabricated his police report, and I can say this with confidence,” remarked Tyler. “When you take a look at the video, it has nothing to do with his report.” Tyler believes the supplemental was provided in an attempt to strengthen Meyer’s argument, when it may very well have done just the opposite.
Coronado and Mackey came out on top, as the judge closed the State case, ruling in their favor on Aug. 13, 2013.
Mackey then proceeded to pursue the case in federal court, while Coronado did not. Mackey’s suit asserted that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated by CHP Officer Meyer. The case would eventually appeal to the Ninth Circuit, where three judges ultimately ruled in favor of Mackey’s claim.
Now that the federal case is settled, Tyler has revealed that he may proceed even further in court for damages inflicted on his client. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but Tyler soundly believes that Officer Meyer’s reputation will forever be tarnished, despite his promotion since the incident.
“His entire credibility will be impeached because of the fabrication,” said Tyler. “Every criminal defense attorney will be able to look at this Ninth Circuit ruling and point out his fabrication of the police report…This is where law enforcement needs to clean up house with people that have no business in law enforcement.”