Six Christians who were cited for evangelizing in a public park in New Jersey are expressing concern after a cell phone that was confiscated by police remains in government custody.
As previously reported, the Christians were cited as they witnessed this past October to passersby in Journal Square in Jersey City. Richard Corniel of Paterson, a Marine who had served in Iraq, was preaching the Gospel when he was approached by Officer Chris Baker, who immediately shut down Corniel by asserting that a permit was required for his activities. Officer Baker also reportedly informed the Christians with Corniel that they were in a “private park” and that they had to leave the city-owned property.
Robert Parker told Christian News Network that Officer Baker demanded identification from all of the Christians under the threat of arrest. Parker said that at first he declined, but police insinuated that if they provided identification, everything would be fine. However, that did not turn out to be the case.
“He told us, ‘That will cost you $250 a piece,’” Parker recalled the officer stating. “He said, ‘Anybody who is with them gets a ticket.’”
Parker explained that the police also confiscated the mobile phone of Alexander Solis, who was recording the incident, contending that it was against the law for them to record police, and that the officers were taking the phone as part of an investigation. Solis stated that the officer took his phone after he informed Baker that he had caught him lying on camera.
The six Christians that were cited attended a hearing this past Monday, during which the prosecution informed Solis’s attorney that he could now retrieve his phone. However, when Solis took off of work to pick up his phone the following day, he was sent away empty-handed.
“I saw the prosecutor. He took me into the prosecutor’s office. I told him that I’m here to get my phone,” Solis told Christian News Network. “He directed me to the downstairs level to get a report.”
He stated that when he went to obtain the report, the detective on duty was uncooperative.
“He gave me a hard time. He was like, ‘You’re not going to get this back until the trial is done. Your phone has now been confiscated as evidence,’” Solis explained.
However, when he told the detective that he was only dealing with a summary offense for engaging in free speech, the detective’s demeanor changed.
“He changed his whole tone,” Solis said, explaining that the detective was surprised that the police would confiscate his phone. “[He said,] ‘Here is your report. Go back to the prosecutor.”
As he made his way back to the prosecutor’s office and provided the report, something else went awry.
“Something popped up on the report,” Solis explained. “He told me, ‘Unfortunately, we don’t even have your phone. It went to the state lab.’”
The state forensics lab is where items that are confiscated during the commission of a crime are analyzed before trial.
Solis expressed concern to Christian News Network as to what might happen to the video evidence on his phone, which he believes will exonerate all of the Christians.
He said that after being informed that he could not have his phone after all, Solis called his attorney, Demetrios Stratis of Fair Lawn, New Jersey, who jumped into action about the matter. Stratis states that he sent a letter to the prosecutor demanding that he ensure that the cell phone and its contents be preserved.
“The phone was not used in the commission of any offense or crime. … There is no law prohibiting him from taping the events,” he explained. “There is no reason that it should be sent to the state lab.”
Stratis said that if anything happens to the evidence, he will approach the court to recognize the actions of police as being what is called an “adverse inference,” which will imply that the prosecution had something to hide.
He stated that he will be seeking a dismissal of the charges for all six Christians at the next hearing on January 11th.
“We have a conference with the judge and the prosecutor,” Stratis outlined. “The basis of my dismissal is that my clients had a right to be in the public square sharing the Gospel.”
All six men are facing a “breach of the peace” charge for their evangelistic activity.