Charges have been dropped against two street preachers accused of disturbing the peace at a Chandler July Fourth celebration.
Chandler city prosecutor Tom Zaworski said he and a legal adviser met recently with Joe Campbell, director of the Door Christian Center in Chandler, and discussed the arrests and past run-ins preachers have had with police. An agreement was reached on how to respect the rights of the preachers, the public and the city.
"Based on those assurances, (the cases) didn’t warrant prosecution," Zaworski said.
Zaworski said that Campbell agreed to talk to his preachers about preventing such incidents.
The city also has in its "hip pocket" the caveat that charges may be refiled if there is another violation involving Door preachers, Zaworski said.
Jonathan Cornell and Jeremiah J. Josserand, both 24 and from Gilbert, were arrested July 4 after they and other Door preachers cornered eventgoers waiting in line for a shuttle to leave and bombarded them with a bullhorn-powered sermon about society’s ills, police said at the time.
Police said the preachers crossed the line of free speech because of their manner, and the arrests spurred a First Amendment debate.
Cornell said he was surprised when court officials told him at a preliminary hearing Aug. 25 that charges agai nst him had been dropped. Josserand’s case was dismissed a week earlier, Cornell said.
"I didn’t do anything wrong, so I didn’t want to get punished for something I didn’t do," Cornell said.
"I’m grateful," Campbell said. "What else can I say?"
In 1996, four members of the church, located at 585 E. Frye Road, were arrested at Chandler’s Ostrich Festival after refusing to remain in "free-speech zones" designated by the city. Charges were dropped, and the four filed a lawsuit against the city, which was settled in 2001 for $35,000.
A lawsuit wasn’t being planned in the latest arrests, Campbell and Cornell said.
Cornell said he and other preachers do not plan to change their style at all. Preachers will continue to respect private property and authority.
"It’s not our desire to get arrested," Cornell said. "We know our limits. We know when we’re pushing too far — but we’re not going to stop preaching on the streets at all."