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Pastor Gets 3 Months in Jail

The Morning Call

Allentown/Lehigh and Berks

Friday, June 23, 1995

By Debbie Garlicki

A Pentecostal minister from New York who participated in a riot at Dorney Park in 1992 will serve three months in the Lehigh County Prison’s work-release center.

Judge James Knoll Gardner rejected defense pleas for probation for the [Defendant]. Gardner also denied requests to allow the 64-year-old minister to remain free on bail pending appeal and to delay the start of the sentence for two weeks.

[Defendant] is to pay a $500 find or do 100 hours of community service in addition to serving three to 23 months in jail. The judge also ordered him to get counseling in alternatives to violence and to stay out of Dorney Park.

His wife of more than 40 years and some of his 11 children were in the county courtroom.

Gardner said [Defendant] was convicted of serious crimes, and nearly three years have passed since the riot because of post-trial motions the defense filed. It’s unlikely [Defendant] will win on appeal, and it’s time to serve time, the judge said.

[Defendant] knew he might be facing jail because his son, who also was convicted, got a jail sentence, Gardner noted. “He’s had three years to prepare for it,” the judge said.

In 1993, a jury convicted [Defendant] of aggravated and simple assault, disorderly conduct and rioting. [Defendant], pastor of the Church of Fire in Brooklyn, punched a South Whitehall Township police officer twice in the face during a brawl between a busload of church members, police, park security guards and strangers who joined in the melee.

[Co-defendant], who was 28, was accused of punching the park’s security chief, who was trying to get the younger [Co-defendant’s] mother off a security guard. In 1993, he got three to 12 months in jail.

Police said the riot started after church members were told that two girls in the group, one of them [Defendant’s] granddaughter, were being arrested for punching security guards. A guard was trying to evict one of the girls from the park because she twice jumped a line for a roller coaster.

New York lawyer Todd D. Greenberg asked the judge to consider that the elder [Defendant] has led a law-abiding life, has raised many children to be responsible adults, and has been a compassionate spiritual leader in his church and community. He worked in a warehouse for many years and lives off a meager pension but still manages to give food and clothing to the less fortunate and guidance to young people, said Greenberg at a hearing yesterday.

Gardner said he received letters, sent by ministers of three New York churches and signed by more than 50 members, lauding the elder [Defendant’s] good works. He also got a letter from a councilwoman whose district includes Brooklyn.

[Defendant] has no recent criminal record but served about a year in a North Carolina jail when he was in his early 20s. Greenberg asked the judge not to hold that against [Defendant], saying he has led an exemplary life for the last 40 years.

The day of the riot, [Defendant] made a mistake out of emotion, but jail would serve no purpose, said Greenberg. Speaking softly, [Defendant] apologized to the park’s security chief and prosecutors.

Deputy District Attorney Jacquelyn C. Paradis said sorry isn’t enough because of injuries to police and security personnel and the danger in which they were placed when, according to police, “all hell broke loose.” She said some time in jail was warranted.

Security Chief John Gilchrist said he suffers from breathing problems. He wife, also a security guard, has headaches, a deputy chief has continuing elbow ailments, and one officer received a concussion when her head was banged against a metal fence.

One police officer was bitten when church members swarmed on authorities and had to undergo periodic testing for disease, said Paradis.

She said [Defendant] should have set an example for his followers by quelling the disturbance and cooling tempers instead of flaming them. He should have shown restraint, not provoked the group, the prosecutor added.

The judge took a 25-minute recess before announcing the sentence and explaining reasons for it. When Gardner re-entered the courtroom, he spoke with a deputy sheriff. Sheriff Ronald Rossi and additional deputies came to the courtroom soon after and stood around [Defendant] and in front of family members seated in the courtroom.

Gardner said he considered [Defendant’s] good deeds but also had to take into account his actions during the riot and the injuries to authorities.

As the patriarch and leader of the group, [Defendant] could have prevented the riot, and some punishment is required, despite the minister’s mostly crime-free life, Gardner said.