A former police officer was arrested and charged with trespassing after reportedly refusing to stop handing out Christian tracts at the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown, N.J.
The incident unfolded on Nov. 5 at 11 a.m. after David Wells, 56, a retired Long Branch cop, was approached by mall security and asked to stop distributing religious literature. When he refused, police were called and he was arrested, New Jersey's The Star-Ledger reported.
Wells told Christian News Network that he was not loud or disruptive while speaking with mall patrons and that he respected peoples' wishes if they did not want to hear his gospel message. He also said that he had handed out tracts in the past there without incident.
"I simply approached individuals and asked them if I could ask them a question. If they said no, I left them alone,” he told the outlet. "If they said yes I simply asked, ‘Are you going to Heaven?’ How I responded was based on how they answered that question."
Regardless, mall security approached Wells and asked him to stop until he had proper permission from mall management to do so.
“The mall security came over and immediately told me to stop what I was doing and to leave the property,” he told Christian News Network. “They indicated that the mall was private property and [that I couldn't distribute tracts there].”
Wells claims police gave him an ultimatum once they arrived: leave the mall or be arrested.
Authorities told The Star-Ledger that a representative from the Monmouth Mall told Wells during the incident that the mall would accommodate his distribution of religious material, but that Wells would need to stop handing out fliers at that time until permission was given.
"He then again refused a request to stop distributing the leaflets or to leave the mall property, and he was then served with a notice from the Monmouth Mall requesting that he leave the mall property immediately," Det. Lt. Lawrence Tyler told The Star-Ledger.
But Wells continued to maintain that he had a right to distribute the materials, despite the staffer's contentions and he refused to leave the property. Wells later said he didn't want to get arrested, but he felt he wasn't doing anything wrong in exercising his free speech.
So police took Wells away in handcuffs and charged him for "defiant trespass." NJ.com reported that he pleaded not guilty and is expected in court on Dec. 5.
The arrest has sparked a debate over free speech and whether Wells should have been permitted to distribute religious materials in the Monmouth Mall. While it is certainly a place where the public coalesces, the shopping center is also privately owned.
With a written blessing from management, people are generally allowed to distribute, however Wells didn't have this permission. It will be intriguing to see how the case plays out.
(H/T: Christian News Network)
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