East Haven, CT – A pastor at Old Stone Church blocked a police car and tried to force the release of a felony domestic violence suspect, citing non-existent laws that protect people from being arrested in a church.
The incident started on Tuesday when East Haven Fire Department requested that police respond to a home where they were treating a domestic violence victim with serious injuries, according to WTIC.
Officers arrived and determined that the 59-year-old female victim had been severely beaten by her son, Ryan Champlin, 34.
The victim told officers that she got into an argument with Champlin because he lived there for free. Champlin started to attack her, and the victim grabbed the phone to call 911.
Champlin pushed her to the ground, and she got up and fled into the bedroom and locked the door. Her son then kicked the door in and used the phone to beat the victim’s head until the phone broke, seriously injuring her.
The suspect then fled the residence.
As officers were hunting Champlin to arrest him for felony domestic violence assault, they were tipped off that he had gotten a ride to Old Stone Church.
Officers arrived at the church and spoke with employees who invited them to come inside to search for the suspect.
The officers searched the church and the attached child day-care facility before locating Champlin hiding in an upstairs office, according to New Haven Register.
The officers arrested Champlin without incident and placed him into the back of their patrol car.
Church Pastor Goodstal-Spinks then arrived, blocked the patrol car in with her Mini Cooper, and demanded that Champlin be released.
“You do not have the authority to come into a church and arrest anybody,” Goodstal-Spinks told the sergeant on scene.
The sergeant tried to explain the situation to her, but she wouldn’t listen.
After the pastor couldn’t be reasoned with, a lieutenant arrived to speak to her.
“This is a church,” Goodstal-Spinks told the lieutenant on scene. “We’re protected by federal law, and state law. It is a place of sanctuary and refuge.”
The practice of sanctuary from legal actions while within church walls was initially adopted by the early Christian church, but abolished entirely in England by James I in 1623, before the founding of the United States, according to Wikipedia. The United States has never allowed criminals to escape justice by hiding in a church.
“Your officer came inside and and arrested a young man that was in there, and they have no authority in that building to do any such thing. Period,” Goodstal-Spinks went on in a condescending tone of voice.
The lieutenant explained that they had arrested a felony domestic violence suspect, and that the officers had a duty to protect the victim from further harm; that didn’t stop the pastor’s smug attitude.
“And you realize that you see on the news all the time, people taking sanctuary, refuge in a church, and even the federal law can’t come in and get them, because this place is a protected place,” she continued.
It’s not immediately clear if she was referring to CNN when she referenced the “news all the time.”
The officers continued to de-escalate the situation instead of arresting the pastor for obstructing a police officer, until they eventually left.
According to New Haven Register, Lt. Joseph M. Murgo released a statement which said, “While the East Haven Police Department respects the sanctity of a church, we also owe it to victims of domestic violence to apprehend suspects who commit violent felony assaults. Officers were also cognizant of the fact that children attending day care might have been exposed to a fleeing felony suspect within the interior of the church. We feel that the decision to enter the church was the correct one in this particular situation.”