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Pastor who defied coronavirus ban arrested on assault charge for nearly backing up bus into protester

Protesters show up at packed Louisiana church
Protesters show up at packed Louisiana church 01:56

Louisiana pastor Tony Spell has been arrested on an aggravated assault charge, local police said. Spell is the pastor at Life Tabernacle Church who has repeatedly defied the statewide ban on large gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic. Now he is accused of backing up a church bus near a protester outside his church on Sunday, reports CBS affiliate WAFB.

After issuing an arrest warrant Monday, the Central Police Department announced Tuesday morning that Spell turned himself in and was arrested on one count of aggravated assault and improper backing. Police said he was fugitive with outstanding warrants in two nearby cities. He will be booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. 

Surveillance video obtained by WAFB shows a white bus accelerating in reverse and stopping just a few feet away from a man carrying a sign in front of the church. Spell admitted in an interview with WAFB that he was driving the bus and said he simply wanted to get out and confront the protester, but his wife convinced him otherwise. 

Surveillance video obtained by CBS affiliate WAFB shows a white bus backing up and stopping just short of a protester outside Life Tabernacle Church in Louisiana. Pastor Tony Spell told WAFB he was behind the wheel. CBS affiliate WAFB

"That man has been in front of my church driveway for three weeks now," Spell said. "He shoots people obscene finger gestures and shouts vulgarities."

"I was pulling in from my bus route, picking up black children who haven't eaten because of this sinister policy that has closed schools," the pastor said. "I was going to approach this gentleman and ask him to leave."

The protester, identified as Trey Bennett, denied he used profanity or displayed obscene gestures. He wants Spell to stop holding services for the health of the community. 

"Just trying to raise awareness so that people will demand that this place [Life Tabernacle] gets closed down," Bennett told WAFB. 

There's also a second arrest warrant out for the driver of a white truck who nearly hit Bennett standing on the side of the road near the church, WAFB reported.

Spell has been defiant since measures to try to control the coronavirus outbreak began. He continued to welcome congregants at the Baton Rouge church despite Governor John Bel Edwards's ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. He has been charged with violating the ban. 

"The virus, we believe, is politically motivated," Spell said in March. "We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says."

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