Ernest Lee, the District Attorney for Onslow County, North Carolina, has informed Jesse Boyd of Full Proof Gospel Ministries, a missionary to South Asia, that prosecutors will not pursue his case, and bond will be returned.
Boyd had attended a fireworks display in a public park in Holly Ridge, North Carolina on the Fourth of July with fellow missionary Ricky Springer at the invitation of a local Christian. The two began distributing tracts to attendees, and then before the fireworks display began, Springer decided to preach in the open air.
Boyd explained that since there was loud music playing in the park, Springer utilized a small amplification device, which was clipped to his belt. Boyd reportedly never preached or used the device.
He stated that many of the attendees were drinking, and one of them started to take issue with Springer’s preaching. Boyd said that he then walked up to the two to see what was going on, and soon after, Sergeant Keith Whaley of the Holly Ridge Police Department “made a beeline for Ricky and told him that he would be arrested if he didn’t shut the microphone off and stop preaching.”
Boyd then attempted to assist Springer by obtaining clarification from the officer as to what local ordinance he was violating. He outlined that Whaley would not provide an answer and left in a huff of anger after threatening arrest.
He says that Whaley later returned with Police Chief John Maiorano, again giving warnings to Springer.
“At that time, we were not preaching or anything because fireworks were going off — only standing around and conversing with some local believers we met,” he explained.
“I continued to press for an explanation of how the law was being transgressed, but these officers scoffed and then rudely walked off, again threatening arrest,” he stated.
Boyd explained that he also had outlined to the officers, “I didn’t just come out of the Third World, having battled all sorts smoke, fire, and a beating for the Gospel, just to be treated like this in a country that is supposed to have freedom of speech.”
“I called to the officers as they were walking away and openly rebuked them: ‘This is the USA, not the Soviet Union,” Boyd said. “Shame on you, you need to repent . . . I am not disrespecting you; I respect your office, but not your manner. This is America.’”
He stated that when uttering the word “repent,” the officers basically turned around and placed him in handcuffs.
Boyd was then transported to the Onslow County Jail, where he was held for two hours and released on $500 bond. He was charged under North Carolina’s disorderly conduct statute for “making utterances and using abusive language, intended and plainly likely to produce immediate violent retaliation” against the police.
This morning, District Attorney Lee advised Boyd that the case has been dismissed, citing “insufficient evidence to warrant prosecution.”
“[T]he verbal conduct in question must not only meet the definition of the [disorderly conduct] statute, but the verbal conduct must also not be constitutionally protected speech,” he wrote in documents filed with the court.
“Police officers are placed in a difficult position when responding to complaints like this one,” Lee continued. “The officers have a duty to maintain order and the courts have ruled that ‘the prime function of government is to preserve public order and keep the State tranquil.’ However, the duty to maintain order must be consistent with the state and federal cases interpreting the First Amendment of the United States Constitution which protects speech.”
“[B]ased upon the applicable law and the evidence leading to this charge, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesse Michael Boyd is guilty of disorderly conduct,” he added. “Therefore, I am dismissing this case.”
“I have to publicly announce that District Attorney Lee has proven himself to be an honorable man, as I had been told by several from the Onslow County area,” Boyd stated. “He was so polite and has acted swiftly.”
“He wished me well, not only in my time here, but my ministry [abroad],” he told Christian News Network.
Two weeks prior to his arrest, Boyd had just returned from a 13-month missions trip, where he had been preaching in 18 countries worldwide, a number of which were closed to any type of “religious proselytizing,” yet faced no threats of arrests by police.
Boyd says that concerns still remain about the freedom to preach in Holly Ridge, especially following Mayor Elmer Padgett’s remarks that police have “the right” to stop people from speaking “if someone complains.”
The Holly Ridge Police Department again declined comment.
Editor’s Note: Those who wish to contact District Attorney Ernest Lee to express gratitude may call 910-478-3699 or email firstname.lastname@example.org