A street preacher accused of assaulting an Athens, Tenn., police officer won’t face assault charges but was indicted on charges of obstructing a highway and resisting arrest for a February incident.
James Decker, who was accused of whacking the officer with a Bible, preached outside McMinn County Criminal Court before his arraignment, where an Oct. 29 status date was set by Circuit Court Judge Carroll Ross.
Decker’s attorney, Charles Pope, said he will “vigorously fight the charges” and file motions for dismissal on that date, alleging that Decker’s civil and religions rights were violated by the Athens City Police Department in the February incident.
All charges against the Niota, Tenn., preacher had been previously thrown out in McMinn General Sessions Court, but the district attorney’s office had the option of taking them to the grand jury for possible indictments.
Decker says he has preached on the streets for 10 years without trouble, that his right to free speech was violated and that officers overreacted.
He was arrested at the corner of U.S. 11 and State Highway 30, where he was preaching wearing signs about the return of Jesus Christ.
Officer Matt Norfleet stated in a report that Decker was standing on the white line at the edge of the road and he asked Decker to back up onto a grassy area.
“I did not mind what he was doing,” Norfleet stated in his report.
The officer said the evangelist became belligerent and hit his nose and forehead with a Bible. Decker and his daughter, however, said officers were unnecessarily rough with the 66-year-old preacher.