WEST WINDSOR, N.J. — An evangelist in New Jersey was found not guilty of defiant trespassing this week for preaching the gospel at a public train station.
As previously reported, Robert Parker has been preaching at the Princeton Junction train station in West Windsor for the past five years, which is a part of the New Jersey Transit system, a provider of public transportation. In June 2012, after he and fellow evangelist Don Karns had finished preaching and witnessing to those waiting for trains, and were leaving, the men were approached by Sergeant Kathleen Shanahan and Officer Sandy Crowe.
Parker and Karns told Christian News Network that Shanahan, who demanded identification, was “extremely hostile,” and claimed that the evangelists had violated the law for speaking at the train station without a permit. The men attempted to record the encounter with their cell phones, but were ordered to turn them off.
“[Sergeant Shanahan] started repeatedly saying, ‘Put the phone down; put the phone down,’” Karns recounted. “You guys are big guys, and I’m just a little officer. You know how scary it is when you have a camera in your hand. How do I know you’re not terrorists? I have no way of knowing that’s not a bomb.”
While Parker provided identification to the officers, Karns asserted his right to privacy. The men were then taken into custody and transported to be booked and charged. After spending three hours in jail, they were leveled with three offenses: defiant trespass, and two counts of obstruction for recording with a cell phone and declining to provide identification.
Parker and Karns later stood trial in municipal court before Judge Kenneth W. Lozier, who took over a year to reach a decision in the matter. Parker told Christian News Network that much of the testimony of the police officers was made to portray them as possible terrorists.
“[Shanahan testified] that we had backpacks, that we were heavily dressed on a very hot day in May, and that our pockets were bulging,” he explained. “She was intimidated by our size and she just took a terrorist class, and so to her, we looked like how a person would look as a terrorist.”
Parker and Karns had to make several trips to court for the trial, including last fall, when they learned that the judge had forgotten about their case and had to reschedule his decision. While Karns was found not guilty of all charges in November, Lozier declared Parker guilty of defiant trespass for preaching at the public train station.
“He was going to sentence me and put me in jail,” Parker explained. “But the prosecutor jumped up and said, ‘Listen, I don’t want to see him go to jail. Just make him pay a fine.’”
But on Wednesday, Justice Mark Fleming of the Superior Court of New Jersey overturned the conviction while leaving the permit requirement in place, stating that the state “failed to prove the elements of defiant trespass beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“The court finds that (1) There was no posting of the NJ transit policy requiring a permit before preaching on the train platform; (2) There was no actual communication of the prohibition against preaching without a permit to Mr. Parker by law enforcement or transit officials prior to his arrest, and thus appellant was not provided sufficient notice that would warrant his conviction for defiant trespass,” he wrote.
Parker told Christian News Network that he is thankful that he was vindicated of the charge after a long battle in the courts.
“It has been a tough two years in and out of court dates: from being found guilty in the lower court, to hearing the judge tell me to get ready for sentencing, to listening to the police officer’s dishonest statements under oath, to the charges equivalent to being a terrorist,” he said.
“I thank God for the Superior Court being fair and balanced and seeing right through the bias of the police officer and the ruling of the lower court. I still have some hope in the court system in the USA,” Parker continued. “I would encourage anyone preaching to use a camera and know the law so you are not bullied by corrupt police officers.”