Jailed for Giving out Gospel Tracts

On 6/10/06 a group from our church went down to the Detroit Art Fair to give out gospel tracts. We started giving out tracts at about 12:45 PM. Around 1 PM, A Detroit Art Fair worker told me that I was not allowed to give out gospel tracts there. I said that I did not believe that she had the authority to prohibit me. She told me that she did, but had no credentials to show it. There was no sign anywhere saying “No Soliciting” or anything like that. I said, thank you for the information and continued to give out gospel tracts. A while later two Art Fair security people came to me and said that I had to leave. I said that this is a public street. They said that the Art Fair had paid for the street for that day. I said that I did not believe that it was really the law that I could not pass out tracts there. They said that they would call the police, and that one of my group had already been arrested, which was not true. I said that it is OK if they call the police, and that I will obey the police.

Two policemen came.  One policeman did all the talking, and the other was quiet. The policeman said that I had to leave and stay one block away from the boundary of the art fair. They escorted me out. I did not resist. On the way, the policeman called me a lot of names, none profane, and lectured me about why I was so dumb. When he paused for me to say something, I just said calmly, “What you say is what you are.”  He said two or three times that I was worse than this bum who had been exposing himself. When we got near the Art fair boundary, the policeman told me that I had to be beyond that corner. Then I thanked them both and shook their hands and said, “The Lord bless you.”  The policeman said, thanks, I need blessing.

About 20 feet outside the Art Fair boundary there was a truck giving away free Sprite. I figured that if they could give away Sprite there, I could give away tracts there. And also that was a good spot because a lot of people came there to get free Sprite. The policemen came back and saw me there. They came out to me and said that I had to go one block away. I said, how come this guy can give away free pop here, but I cannot give away free gospel tracts? The policeman asked if I wanted to issue a complaint about the guy giving away the pop, and I said, Of course not.

Then he started calling me the same names he called me before with the same lecture. He said, if you give me a tract I will arrest you right here on the spot. So I gave him a tract, because I did not think he had the right to tell me that. Then he kept saying he was going to arrest me, so I said, Then arrest me. Then he put the cuffs on me and called for a truck to pick me up. When he called for the truck, the operator answered that they do not send a truck for the kind of crime he was reporting. He said to me, I can wait here all day. I'm getting paid for this. To redeem the time, I starting singing Psalms, loud so people could hear. A person came to listen to me, so I asked him if he wanted a gospel tract. He said yes. So I turned around to give him one, from my cuffed hands. The quiet policeman grabbed the tracts out of my hand. He said, You cannot do that. He put the tracts into my fanny pack.

A policewoman came and 2 policemen on bikes came, so now there were 5 policemen guarding me. Eventually a police truck came and picked me up along with the talkative policeman. It seemed to take a long time to drive to the 11th precinct. When I was standing on the street, singing the Psalms, I did not notice the cuffs on my hands much. But now that I was in the back seat of the truck, my nose started to itch, and I was thirsty.
When we arrived at the 11th precinct, the talkative policeman and I went in. When he was bringing me into the precinct, and he was alone with me, he said that if it was night time, he would have beaten me up. (Presumably because no one would have seen.) He said this twice.  When he uncuffed me, I asked him if I could have a drink from my water bottle, which was in my fanny pack. He said no, they will give you water here.

In my cell there was another prisoner, and he was sleeping. I was occupying myself by reciting the Psalms. Unbeknown to me, 3 brothers from my church came down to the precinct to get me out. I heard policemen yelling at each other about my case. They were yelling, How come this guy was arrested for handing out flyers?! No wonder they are trying to get him out! At the time I thought it was the prisoners yelling to each other from their cells, and I was wondering how they knew about me. But now I realize it was the policemen. At 4 PM, a policeman came to my cell and told me that they had 3 people working to get me out. He asked me how much cash I had, and I told him, $60. A little while later, the same policeman took me out of my cell and back to the entry area. The policeman there asked me what I was arrested for. I told him, for giving out gospel tracts. He said that whoever arrested me must be a moron. He said, We've got so many problems, and they're arresting a guy for giving out papers about Jesus! He gave me back all my stuff except for my pocket knife. The precinct took my $60 and another $40 from one of my church brothers as bail bond. The ticket that the policeman wrote up for me was that I was obstructing traffic - which is completely false. The precinct took the ticket away from me, but did not give me another one. The only thing they gave me was a bond receipt which said that I needed to come to court on 6/16 or forfeit the bond. I said, Don't I get a ticket to let me know what I was charged with? The sergeant just said that I was charged with disorderly conduct. I was never read my rights at any time.

-Steve Miller

Update 8/9/06. This was my court date. I had to take ½ day vacation to go downtown to the 36th District Court at 8:30 am. Four brothers from church went down with me. The courtroom was packed with defendants, many standing outside the courtroom. I estimate there were about 100 defendants. Charges were drunk driving, driving without a license, driving without insurance, drug possession, hiring a prostitute, and routine speeding tickets. About ½ the defendants had their cases dismissed quickly because the arresting policeman was not present.  Many of these were serious charges, like drunken driving.  My policeman was there. The only other crime he was there for was a routine speeding ticket.  The rest of the defendants came up one by one, had their charges lessened, pleaded guilty, and took the consequences. Eventually the courtroom was almost empty except for me and the four brothers who came with me. The defense lawyer came over and told me, “Out of all these cases, only one is going to trial, and it is yours.” So after all other cases were finished, I was called up along with the policeman. But the prosecuting attorney had left. She said she was too tired. The defense attorney asked the judge to dismiss my case, because I had been waiting there all morning, had to take off work, had four witnesses with me, and it was not my fault that the people did not have a prosecuting attorney.  The judge said that it was not my fault that there was no prosecuting attorney, but that I would have to come back for trial on another day.

 10/11/06 Finale (or so I thought). This was my next court date. We had prayed at the church prayer meeting the night before concerning my case & for the policeman's and my lawyer's salvation. I had expected that the policeman would not show up, but he came. But my defense lawyer did not show up. (My defense lawyer is a neighbor of one of my church brothers. When the brother told this lawyer about my case, this lawyer said he would take care of it for me for $50, which is basically for free. He is an atheist, but seems to be an honest man, and I felt good about him defending me. He had defended me at my 1st trial date.) I tried calling and paging my lawyer, but no answer. Since my lawyer did not show, the court officer told me to come up to talk to the public defender.  The public defender read the charges against me to himself. He asked me how I wanted to plead, and I said, "innocent". He said, "You mean not guilty." This lawyer was an old white-haired grumpy and dumpy-looking guy. I showed him my write-up of the incident, and he said, "This is not evidence, just hearsay", without reading it. I showed him the fax from the President of the Art Fair which said that we were allowed to give out tracts there, but he said, without reading it, "This cannot be admitted as evidence. The person who wrote this must be present." He said, "This is just your word against the policeman's, and you will surely lose. Your only chance is to ask for a jury trial."  I told him that I had previously been told by the court officer that for this offense I could not ask for a jury trial because the offense was too minor, but he said that I could. I said OK.

When I went back to my seat, another brother asked me how much the jury trial would cost, and I was wondering how much time it would cost me and the brothers. I went up and asked the lawyer. He said that if I was calling 4 witnesses, it could cost a lot because that would use a lot of the court's time and also make the judge mad if the witnesses were not all that relevant. He said I should ask for an adjournment because my lawyer was not present. I did not want to do that because I and the brothers would have to take another 1/2 day off work, and the lawyer might not show that day either. I told him, "no". He said, "Do you want me to defend you?" I asked if I could defend myself, and he said that would be stupid. I said, "I will defend myself." The lawyer then went up to the clerk and told her, "We have the worst possible situation: Somebody wants to defend himself."

We waited through most of the cases. There were some trials. In all cases, the judge asked the defendant if he had read the charges against him, and whether he agreed that the charges were true. I had as yet never seen the charges against me, and I thought that I would look stupid saying that in front of the judge and wasting the court's time if I read them for the first time while on the stand. At one point the public defender called me out of the courtroom and said, "I have a way, I might be able to help you. You should plead 'no contest'. Then you are not admitting guilt, and you will get off easy." I said, "No, I do not want to do that. I consider that to be admitting that I was wrong." He said, "I've been practicing criminal law for 30 years, and I have been with this judge for 15 years, and I can tell you that you have zero chance of winning." I said, "I'll take my chances." He said, "So you're gonna throw out the good advice that I'm giving you!?" I said, "I have to do what I think is right."  He said sarcastically, "God be with you." I said, "Thank you." He started to leave, but I said, "I haven't yet seen the charges against me. Can I at least read them?" He had them in his hand. He started to give them to me, but then pulled away and said, "No. I am not representing you. I am not allowed to do anything for you. You'll have to ask the clerk yourself." But there was no opportunity to go up to ask the clerk because cases were going on.

Eventually no one was left in the courtroom besides the court officials, the 4 brothers, myself, and one lady that wandered in late. The judge called my name, and I came forward. She told me to sit back down. She just wanted to be sure I was present. Then she called a short recess in order to find a prosecutor to prosecute my case. During the recess I went up and asked the clerk if I could read the charges against me. Here is what it said:

"Writer was assigned to work the "Festival of the Arts" in the central district. Observed the perpetrator disturbing the pedestrian traffic by attempting to "put" pamphlets in the festival patrons' hands, forcing them to resist contact with him and alter their walking path to avoid contact. Writer advised the perpetrator 2 times of the violation and the perpetrator stating to the writer on the 2nd encounter, "Arrest me. Go ahead,  arrest me - I want to go to jail" in earshot of the patrons which further disturbed the peace of the festival by causing the patrons to stop and look. Perpetrator arrested and conveyed to the NED for processing."

I did say "then go ahead and arrest me" in a normal voice. I did not say it twice, and I did not say "I want to go to jail." As soon as I said "then go ahead and arrest me", I saw the policeman's face change, and I knew I had said the wrong thing. What I said could not have disturbed any art fair patrons because, I said it in a normal voice, we were outside of the art fair, and the policeman was much louder, in what he said to me. So I would have to say that the charges as written are false.

A number of lawyer-looking men came into the courtroom during the recess. I figured they were prosecutors. But they all left. When the recess was over, my name was called, and I went up to the stand and stated my name and date of birth. The judge said, "Mr. Miller, you appeared here on August 9 and waited all morning, and your case was adjourned because there was no prosecutor. Today the situation is the same. We do not have a prosecutor. I apologize for wasting your time. Case dismissed."

On our way out, the policeman was still waiting in the hall. He did not know that the case had been dismissed. One of my church brothers went over to him and told him, "I just wanted you to know that we have been praying for your heart."

I received the $100 bond back in about a week. I was surprised because the officer had told me that once you give the City of Detroit bond money, you'll never see it again.

10/27/06 Double-Jeopardy. Yesterday I received mail from the 36th District Court ordering me to come to court again on 11/30/06. I called there this morning to see what it was about. The clerk said, This must be some mistake. It appears that your case is entered in the system twice. Let me check on it, and I will call you back.

She called back in about ½ hour. She said, It is not a mistake. The officer resubmitted your ticket.

I said isn't that double-jeopardy and against the constitution, since my case was already dismissed? She said, No, that only applies if you had a trial, but since your case was dismissed, the officer can resubmit it as often as he wants for up to one year.

11/30/06 Arraignment. The prosecution offered me that if I would admit guilt they would give me a $75 fine and 60 days probation. I said no. The clerk said that I had better get myself a lawyer then. My next court date is 1/25/07. That is good that it is next year, because I just used my last 1/2 vacation day for 2006.

Case Closed - A brother recommended that I contact the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF).  I had already contacted the ACLJ & the Liberty Group, but neither of those could help much because they don't handle criminal cases. I also had contacted the ACLU, and they would not help. ADF assigned me a very good lawyer. He interviewed me at his office, and then he went down and talked to the prosecutor to show her that this case should be dropped. She refused to drop it. So the lawyer asked for a jury trial and had the trial date postponed until March.

He then wrote a document of 40 Supreme Court cases showing that the City of Detroit had violated my constitutional rights. He submitted this to the prosecutor and the judge. The judge officially quashed the case, and now the case is closed.

-Steve Miller