Evangelist files suit against IUP officers

The Penn Online, July 28, 2003
By KELSEY VOLKMANN, Penn Editor in Chief

A roaming evangelist is seeking restitution of at least $450,000 for an incident that occurred two years ago while preaching on campus. He has filed a federal lawsuit against two campus police officers and IUP’s director of the Center for Student Life.

On Oct. 5, 2001, James Gilles of The Campus Ministry — a group that travels to educate others according to their Pentecostal faith — was arrested for disorderly conduct, defiant trespass and failure of disorderly persons to disperse after preaching in the Oak Grove to a crowd of 50 to 100, mostly students, about what, some consider, controversial topics.

The Penn reported on Jan. 13 that during his discourse, Gilles claimed that Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons are condemned to hell. He labeled fraternities “havens and hideouts for drunken … devils” and called people in the crowd communists or homosexuals.

Gilles was cleared of criminal charges in December 2002 after Judge Gregory Olson found that Gilles’ right to free speech outweighed Campus Police Sgt. Gregory Davis’ charge that Gilles annoyed passers-by.

Gilles is now looking for compensation from Davis and Officer Christopher Goenner of the Indiana University Police Department and Student-Life Director Terry Appolonia for the $13,000 he incurred in legal expenses and for “days’ worth of emotional and psychological damage,” Gilles said in a phone interview Thursday.

According to a complaint filed April 14 by Gilles’ attorney, J. Michael Considine Jr. of West Chester, Appolonia denied the ministry’s request for the necessary solicitation permit “without any stated reason.” Appolonia, on the other hand, said that Gilles “failed to check in at the [Student Life] office,” according the Jan. 13 Penn article.

Twenty minutes after the start of his evangelizing, Davis approached Gilles, requesting a permit, according to the complaint. This was not the first encounter between Davis and Gilles.

“[Davis] reminded Gilles that in an October 1988 incident he had told him if he ever returned to the campus … he would be charged,” according to the complaint. “[Davis] attempted to enforce what he believed to be a lifetime ban on religious speech by Gilles on campus.”

When describing the events of that October day, Gilles expressed disgust at the thought of the arrest that occurred in front of his wife, Bonnie, his children and other members of his religious group.

The complaint also charges Davis with battery, claiming that he “handcuffed Gilles so tightly it caused him severe pain for hours and refused to loosen the handcuffs despite many cries of pain and repeated requests.”

Timothy Petit, a member of Gilles’ group, is also mentioned in the complaint for his recording of the preaching with a video camera, which was seized by Goenner and other officers during the arrest.

According to the complaint, despite letters and phone calls, Gilles’ video camera, audio tape recorder, audiotape, a briefcase and papers have not been returned.

Gilles was detained in jail Oct. 5-8, 2001.

Petit was unable to afford an attorney and pled guilty to a summary charge of disorderly conduct, “although the facts did not support a conviction on that charge.”

Because of his two encounters with Davis, Gilles considers it a personal matter.

“It would be hard to convince me that Sgt. Davis does not have a personal vendetta against me,” Gilles said.

Davis is on military leave and Goenner no longer works for the IUP police department, according to student dispatcher Jennifer James.

Appolonia declined to comment on the suit when contacted Thursday.

During his 20 years of preaching at 327 universities in 49 states, Gilles has experienced encounters with other university officers. In November 2001, Gilles was kicked off the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The university issued an official, written ban from campus for six weeks. Gilles’ attorney sent demand letters but the university did not reconsider its position.

Gilles then filed a federal suit, and two weeks later, the university settled.

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