Pastor holds church services hours after he was arrested for defying orders on limiting crowd sizes

Posted at 1:10 PM, Apr 01, 2020

Tony Spell, a pastor from Central, Louisiana who has defied government orders to limit crowds at his church to slow the spread of COVID-19, was arrested on Tuesday, The Advocate reports.

Spell, who allegedly violated orders to limit groups to 50 or fewer people, has been charged with six counts of violating the governor's orders, the newspaper reports.

Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran said his office arrested Spell on Tuesday following weeks of city and state leaders urging that he suspend services.

"He will be held responsible for his reckless and irresponsible decisions that endangered the health of his congregation and our community," Corcoran told the Advocate. "We are facing a public health crisis and expect our community's leaders to set a positive example and follow the law."

Corcoran said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon that Spell was issued a summons, but the action by officers constituted an arrest, even though Spell was not taken to jail.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has repeatedly pleaded with citizens to stay home and avoid contact with others to "flatten the curve" and prevent hospitals from being overrun with patients.

Louisiana already is setting up staging areas in the New Orleans Convention Center and other locations to make more beds for the ill.

Edwards addressed Spell's defiance at his press conference yesterday, saying he wishes that Spell would do what "the vast majority of faith leaders are doing" and find innovative ways to worship via livestreams.

Spell's arrest came a day after a pastor in Tampa was arrested for defying a county-wide "safer at home" order and held services in front of dozens of people.

Spell said after his arrest that he would go ahead and hold services on Tuesday night. Services were held as planned, and members of the media were at the church as parishioners walked in.

The Advocate reports children, the elderly, and the disabled were among those in attendance at Tuesday night's service.

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Deputies were in the church parking lot, observing people entering the church. Deputies said they were asked to be there to help prevent traffic accidents.

Also at the event was an official with the area NAACP, calling on Spell to "come outside and explain himself."

This story was originally published by KATC in Lafayette, Louisiana.