$500,000 bond called ‘grossly unreasonable’ for Mississippi street preachers arrested after calling woman a ‘Jezebel,’ waving Bible
Published 4:43 pm Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Two Mississippi street preachers who were convicted of misdemeanor simple assault for calling a woman a “Jezebel” and waving a Bible in a man’s face were released from jail Wednesday after a judge found they were being held under “grossly unreasonable” bond.
The $500,000 appearance bond for each preacher was at least 500 times the amount recommended by the Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure for bail pending trial.
“I’ve seen bonds set in rape cases, aggravated assault cases far more serious than this, and nowhere near half a million dollars,” said Judge Jess H. Dickinson, a retired Mississippi Supreme Court justice appointed to help with a backload of cases in Hinds County Court. Dickinson reduced the bond to $5,000 each.
Allan Grant Siders and Bryan Peden, preachers for Church at Jackson, were convicted Sept. 22. Jackson Municipal Judge Jeffrey Reynolds sentenced Siders to six months and Peden to three months in jail.
The men were preaching outside businesses in Jackson’s Fondren neighborhood when Jackson resident Matthew Camp said they shouted at him and his girlfriend repeatedly using a voice amplification system, calling her a “Jezebel” and calling them “filthy fornicators.” He said they waved a Bible in his face in a threatening way and yelled at him so closely that spit landed on his face.
Reynolds said a high bond was justified because members of the church — around 30 people — or another organization that shares their “extremist” views could help them flee. Reynolds also said the preachers are a community danger because they “traumatize young children by screaming insults at their parents through a voice amplifying device.” He said he finds it “particularly troubling” that Siders “believes it acceptable to scream at a police officer that he is a coward, a sissy and effeminate.”
Attorney Joel Dillard, representing the preachers, said the bail and conviction are unconstitutional and his clients are asking a higher court for a new trial.
In Hinds County Court on Wednesday, he called Reynolds’ bail decision an “abuse of his discretion” designed to keep the preachers in jail.
“He is impermissibly motivated by a desire to silence protected speech and to punish people who he feels did something wrong through the setting of a bond,” Dillard said.
The preachers were jailed eight days.
Church at Jackson members preach on sidewalks outside places such as bars and the state’s only abortion clinic in the Fondren neighborhood. Members often use a voice amplifier and hand out Bible tracts.
The men were convicted under a statute that says a person is guilty of simple assault if he or she “attempts by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent serious bodily harm.”
Matt Steffey, a professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, said people usually are convicted under the “physical menace” statute if they threatened someone with a weapon.
State Defender André de Gruy said defense attorneys contacted him in the past week raising questions about the bail.
“A $500,000 bail is unheard of in most felony cases, so it’s certainly unheard of in a misdemeanor case,” he said.
Siders and Peden are also represented by criminal defense lawyers Cody Gibson and Scott Mullennix.