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Louisiana Pastor Tony Spell Arrested After Backing Church Bus Towards Protester

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  • 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. 

Surveillance footage obtained by WAFB-TV

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) 

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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

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Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

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