Two former members of a Hemet church arrested for reading Biblical passages outside a Department of Motor Vehicles office are set to be arraigned Friday on a misdemeanor charge, in a case that resulted in a federal lawsuit against the patrolman who arrested them.
Brett Anthony Coronado, 42, and Mark Allen Mackey, 59, are charged with conducting a demonstration on state grounds without a permit. They were arrested Feb. 2 outside the Hemet DMV office at 1200 S. State St. and are free on their own recognizance.
According to court documents, shortly after 8 on the morning of their arrests, Coronado, a former assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel, and Mackey, who worked in the church’s evangelical ministries, stood about 50 feet away from the DMV office, in the parking lot, and read passages from the New Testament.
In a YouTube video, Coronado said the purpose was to spread the gospel.
As Mackey was reading, a DMV security guard approached and ordered him “to go some place else.” Mackey refused and continued reading, with Coronado at his side, the video shows.
Twenty minutes later, California Highway Patrol Officer Darren Meyer arrived at the location, and after briefly conferring with the security guard, confronted Mackey, snatched his Bible, handed it to Coronado and arrested Mackey on suspicion of trespassing, according to the video and court documents.
“What have I done wrong?” Mackey asks in the video.
“You’ve been asked to leave, and you didn’t,” Meyer replies. “You can preach on your own property. You can preach on a street corner. But you’re not allowed to preach here because this is a captive audience.”
When Coronado asks Meyer to cite the specific statute that Mackey has violated, the CHP officer replies, “You want to go, too?”
“I’m giving you the option: You want to leave or you want to be arrested?” the lawman asks.
A few minutes later, another CHP officer arrived and arrested Coronado on suspicion of impeding a business. Another member of the ministry, Edmond
Flores, also was taken into custody, but was not charged.
Coronado, Mackey and Flores filed a civil liberties lawsuit less than two months later, alleging Meyer, and by extension the CHP, had violated their First, Fourth and 14th amendment rights, as well as violated the “liberty” clause of the California Constitution.
“Defendant, the CHP and the DMV all have engaged in the selective enforcement of a vague, overbroad and discretionary process of determining what expression will be allowed, and their enforcement has been inconsistent and viewpoint discriminatory,” according to the suit, which is being handled on behalf of the plaintiffs by Murrieta-based Advocates for Faith and Freedom.
“In this instance, defendant prohibited plaintiffs’ expressive activity because they were reading from the Bible and expressing religious viewpoints,” the suit alleges. “Defendant’s actions … were harmful to plaintiffs because it violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
The suit alleges the men were victims of false imprisonment and asks the court to declare religious speech outside the DMV office lawful, and to prohibit Meyer and any other state law enforcement official from arresting people for trespassing without justification.
Meyer, now the public information officer for the CHP’s San Gorgonio office in Beaumont, sought an immediate dismissal of the lawsuit based on federal judicial findings that law enforcement officers acting within their official capacity cannot be sued for carrying out their duty.
In September, Los Angeles-based U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee suspended further hearings on the suit until the criminal case against Coronado and Mackey is resolved.