Preachers to take U. to court
July 15, 2010, 2:43 am · Updated July 15, 2010, 12:00 am·
Two evangelical Christian missionaries plan to file a federal suit against the University of Pennsylvania for what the missionaries said was an infringement upon their right to proselytize.
The case will be in response to the July 3 arrest of Michael Marcavage and Ken Fleck for disorderly conduct and obstruction of a highway by Penn Police. The men were preaching outside of the Masjid al Jamia mosque at 4228 Walnut Street. Both men pled not guilty. They will be tried in a Philadelphia municipal court on Aug. 10.
Division of Public Safety spokeswoman Stef Cella declined to comment because the criminal case remains active.
According to Marcavage, the arrests were unexpected considering that he and fellow evangelicals have preached in that same area many times before with no trouble.
According to Marcavage, a Penn bike policeman patrolling the area demanded that the men stop preaching in front of the mosque. When the men refused, Marcavage said, more Penn Police arrived on the scene on what he described as “a rampage.” He began filming the scene on his camera to use as evidence.
He claimed that Officer Nicole Michel assaulted him and forcibly shut off his camera. Marcavage called 911 because “the officer was out of control,” and began filming once more, at which point the police confiscated the device.
After being released from police custody, Marcavage said the camera was returned to him, with the footage of the event allegedly “destroyed” and replaced by a black recording dated to when Marcavage had already been apprehended.
“It clearly showed a frivolous arrest, and assault by an office, and a clear violation of civil rights,” Marcavage said.
“I am deeply concerned about the police making that video disappear,” Marcavage continued.
Marcavage is filing a federal injunction to protect the footage in order to utilize it in his civil suit against the University. He also said the footage has been subpoenaed by the judge involved in the criminal proceedings against him and Fleck.
According to Philadelphia criminal lawyer Patrick Artur, if police really did tamper with evidence, they did not have the right to do so.
“If [Macarvage and Fleck] can show that the excalputory evidence was destroyed by police,” they can expect a favorable verdict in the criminal case, Artur said, explaining that the people do have a right to preach in public.
However, given that Marcavage and Fleck were charged with disorderly conduct, Artur said the incident “ just seems to be one of these small things that escalated” into something larger.
SP News Editor Victor Gamez contributed reporting to this article.