Pastor Mark Mackey was arrested for reading the Bible aloud in front of the California Department of Motor Vehicles office in Hemet, Calif., in 2011. But on Wednesday, three federal appellate judges in the Ninth Circuit issued a final ruling in favor of the Christian, rebuking the officer's original claims and finding him not guilty.
"Justice still prevails," said Mackey.
California Highway Patrol officer Darren Meyers cited Mackey for violating a state law that forbids the interference with an open business through obstruction and intimidation.
When Mackey was arrested, the CHP officer initially stated it was illegal to "preach to a captive audience," according to the law firm representing the pastor.
This week, Ninth Circuit judges rejected the officer's fabricated claims in his police report: "Upon arrival, Meyer encountered Mackey reading his Bible aloud in a dirt patch, neither obstructing nor intimidating anyone in line. Meyer avers that Mackey was 'yelling at the people waiting in line,' 'that there was obvious verbal confrontation between the group of men and the people standing in line,' and that the 'confrontation was heated and nearing a physical state.'"
A video of the event shows Mackey reading the Bible away from people standing in line, reports Fox News.
The DMV was closed at the time Mackey was there, according to him. He said he was standing at least 50 feet from the entrance. He said the district attorney changed the charges, claiming trespass, after "the government realized the business was not actually open and, presumably, saw the video showing no threats or intimidation."
Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting religious liberty in the courts, in representing Mackey, filed a federal lawsuit for unlawful arrest arguing the officer had no basis or probable cause to arrest him.
Mackey offered to dismiss his suit if the California Highway Patrol would admit the arrest was unlawful and agreed to properly instruct its officers, according to Christian News Wire. The CHP declined to do so, Mackey was instead criminally prosecuted in California state court in the County of Riverside.
Advocates for Faith & Freedom general counselor Robert Tyler, who argued in the Ninth Circuit on behalf of Mackey, stated, "An innocent man exercising his religious liberty and free speech was criminally prosecuted based on erroneous claims put forth by a false and deceitful police report. It appears to me that the arrest and prosecution of my client was politically motivated because they did not agree with my client's speech. But that is exactly why our founders created the First Amendment - to protect even disagreeable speech. Today's decision renews my hope in the justice system."
Co-counsel and volunteer criminal defense attorney Nic Cocis said the video evidence clearly contradicted the claims of the officer, but it took an appeal to the Ninth Circuit before justice could be realized. "The officer and the CHP should be held accountable for their disregard of constitutional liberties," he said.