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Year After Wedding Debacle, Couple to Marry for Real

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Adding insult to injury, a couple who exchanged wedding vows last New Year’s Eve at a North Hollywood police station have to get married again because a police chaplain lacked proper credentials.

The first time around, the groom had been detained because he loosely matched the description of a black robbery suspect.

If everything goes right this time, John Hill and Jaime Blake will tie the knot today in a Las Vegas wedding chapel, as far away as their budget would allow them to travel from the scene of last year’s double-barreled fiasco.

Not only did their previous union take place in the worn and crowded hallway of a police station instead of in the garden of a Hollywood church, it turned out to be a sham.

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“Through everything we went through, the one thing we hung onto was that at least we were married,” said Blake, 32, who is white and angry at what she feels is a police practice of stereotyping black males as criminals. “And then we lost that, too.”

The Santa Clarita couple’s previous wedding ceremony was invalid because the Rev. Kevin Smith, the police chaplain who officiated, had been removed from the Methodist ministry six months earlier. A church official said Thursday that his credentials were terminated for confidential reasons.

Under California law, marriage ceremonies may be performed only by civil commissioners deputized by the county, active or retired judges and commissioners, and priests, rabbis or ministers of any religious denomination, including mail-order ministers, according to the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder’s office.

Smith could not be reached for comment, but Cmdr. Dan Watson, coordinator of the Los Angeles Police Department’s reserve force, said the chaplain did not report that he had been stripped of his credentials and continued to serve as a police chaplain until earlier this year.

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Unaware of the change in his status, North Hollywood officers called in Smith to marry Blake and Hill, who had been released from handcuffs after more than three hours and was still dressed in the greasy overalls he had worn to work.

The groom had been heading to Hollywood to get married about 9 p.m., after a 24-hour shift as a maintenance mechanic at a soda plant in Vernon, when he was picked up by police officers searching for a black man suspected in a carjacking and armed robbery.

Police have defended their handling of the case by saying that Hill had acted suspiciously. They later added that they had a warrant for the arrest of a man with the same name.

Smith performed a hasty ceremony and signed the marriage certificate as a Methodist minister, Watson said.

Sandra Olewine, registrar of the local Board of Ordained Ministry of the United Methodist Church, said she read news accounts of the ceremony and called the couple and police in February to inform them that the marriage was invalid. Smith was immediately removed as a chaplain, Watson said.

Blake and Hill, who are suing the city of Los Angeles, Smith and the LAPD for false arrest, racial discrimination and emotional distress, had planned to be married this weekend in Los Angeles by Olewine. The couple said they waited until the last day of the year because that was the original date they were to have been married.

But Blake said they switched the ceremony to Las Vegas after Hill was frisked this week by LAPD officers during a routine traffic stop for a burned-out license plate bulb.

“It spooked him, and it spooked me,” Blake said. “We just didn’t want to spend New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles again.”

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