- Police arrested Louisiana Pastor Tony Spell for aggravated assault after a video showed him backing a church bus just a few feet before a protester.
- A parishioner who swerved his truck towards the same individual later that day is also facing an assault charge.
- Spell denies any wrongdoing and claims the protester has hurled obscenities and lude gestures at church women and children for weeks, however, the man says he has been peacefully protesting since Easter Sunday.
- Spell is the same pastor who was charged with six misdemeanors counts in March for consistently hosting large services at Life Tabernacle Church.
Who is Tony Spell?
Louisiana megachurch Pastor Tony Spell has found himself in trouble with the law once again, this time after police reviewed video of him backing a church bus towards a protester.
Spell has made headlines in recent weeks for consistently defying coronavirus stay-at-home orders to hold large worship services at Life Tabernacle Church. You may also recognize him as the pastor who directed his followers to give their stimulus checks to evangelists, missionaries, and ministers.
In March, Spell was hit with six misdemeanor counts for violating Governor John Bel Edwards’ order against mass gatherings. He even posted a video of that exchange on YouTube, which shows him blessing the two officers who served him.
On Tuesday, local police arrested Spell again after issuing a warrant for him over the Sunday bus incident. This time, Spell is facing an aggravated assault charge which carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison.
Video and Protester’s Account
According to police, Spell was driving the church bus and backed it up on the shoulder of the road, stopping just a few feet before a protester who local reporters identified as Trey Bennett.
Bennett told WAFB-TV, “At first I thought he [Spell] was just turning around his bus and was going to pull away, but he just kept coming in reverse.”
“I could see him [Spell] driving the bus. He was honking his horn loudly at me and making gestures suggesting he was yelling while he was driving. It didn’t seem real until it was physically in my face with a bus,” Bennett added.
Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran said Spell “was trying to intimidate the protester.”
A parishioner at the church who police identified as Nathan Thomas is also facing an aggravated assault charge. Surveillance footage shows Thomas swerving his vehicle towards the same protester hours later.
Bennett described that incident as well, saying “And he [man in white truck] was going very fast. He just pulled over at me and turned into the church. That was much faster than what Tony Spell was doing when he drove the bus at me.”
Spell Denies Wrongdoing
Spell for his part has argued that he and Thomas did nothing wrong. He says the video will exonerate him and he has retained former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore as one of his lawyers.
Another one of his attorney’s Joseph Long, said Tuesday that Spell would be vindicated because, “A fair viewing of the video will prove that Spell did not attempt to run over the protester, and the protester did not feel threatened, as he never moved when the bus came near.”
Spell told WAFB-TV on Monday that he was actually just going to go talk to the protester, “That man has been in front of my church driveway for three weeks now.”
“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 continued. “I was going to approach this gentleman and ask him to leave.”
Spell told a similar story to The New York Times, adding that the man had been outside his church for the past 36 days and that law enforcement had not responded to the church’s complaints about him.
Spell claimed that Bennett’s verbal harassment was directed at his wife, children, and “hundreds of other women” who attend the church. He even accused Bennett of “immoral crotch-grabbing” directed at those same people.
“After I parked my bus, I said to myself this is a waste of time, rehearsing the scripture ‘cast not thy pearl before swine,’ I then pulled away from the protester and parked on my parking lot,” he continued.
When speaking via text to a Washington Post reporter, Spell added, “This is the proudest day of my life to be persecuted for the faith.” When asked whether he considered the specific incident to be an act of faith, he suggested he would block the reporter on his phone.
Bennett Denies Obscene Protesting
Despite Spell’s claims, Bennett denies ever using profanity or obscene gestures. Instead, he says he has been peacefully protesting outside since Easter Sunday.
“I haven’t done anything of the sort. I just stand there with a sign. I don’t say anything to anybody,” Bennett explained.
One of his signs, for example, reads: “CAUTION: Coronavirus incubator. Do not enter. You may die.”
Bennett says he just wants Spell to stop holding services and risking the health of the community. “Just trying to raise awareness so that people will demand that this place [Life Tabernacle] gets closed down,” he said.
According to The Advocate Newspaper, one of Spell’s lawyers was hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19 on April 14. However, it’s unclear how exactly he contracted the virus and both he and Spell have pointed out that along with church events, the lawyer also regularly went to the grocery store and other public places.
On top of that, a recent coroner’s report showed that an elderly member of Spell’s congregation died of “acute respiratory distress syndrome, pneumonia, and COVID-19.”
Acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia are frequently found in patients who die of coronavirus. Still, Spell called the coroner’s report a lie and said the man died of other medical issues.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Fox News)
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.