Pulpit Arrest Brings Claim of $15 Million

from Associated Press

A dispute in a small Monrovia church has escalated into a $15-million claim against the city by a former pastor who was handcuffed by police and taken from the pulpit during a Sunday service.

The Rev. Obie S. Fox, who was arrested Dec. 18 at the 125-member Community Baptist Church, said he believes racism played a part in the unusual arrest at the black church. Fox contends that police would not have disrupted a service in a white church.

Mayor Robert Bartlett said he could not discuss the case because of pending litigation, but he said the arrest was legal.

Fox was arrested for investigation of trespassing and disturbing the peace after two deacons lodged the charges. The incident was videotaped by another deacon, who routinely records the services.

Bent Pastor's Arm

The videotape shows Deacons Leon Washington and Clarence Jackson telling police Sgt. Rand Loechner and Officer Rich Wagnon to arrest Fox. When Fox attempted to show Wagnon the church bylaws, the officer took him by the right arm, bent it behind his back and escorted him from the pulpit.

The district attorney's office said the dispute "should be settled civilly."

Fox last week filed a $15-million claim against the city of Monrovia and its Police Department, alleging "false arrest, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress."

The city has six months to respond to the claim. After that time, Fox may file suit, said Stephen Wolfson, Fox's attorney.

Jackson declined to discuss the issue on advice of his attorney. Washington could not be reached for comment Monday.

Fox said he believes the uproar between the two factions arose from budget disputes.

Robert Larking, a former deacon, said he had questioned a financial report Jackson and Washington had submitted. He said the two deacons told congregants at a meeting the day before Fox's arrest that the pastor "was spending all the money."

But Deacon Olen Graves called Larking's allegations "a bunch of lies."

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