Chatham man issued fine, ordered to stay away from church for year

| May 8, 2010

Micah Noel Robertson, the Chatham man charged with misdemeanor trespassing after videotaping and causing a disturbance at a Feb. 28 event at Westover Baptist Church, must pay a $100 fine and stay away from the church for a year.

Danville General District Court Judge Lee Stilwell imposed the fine and the order after a 90-minute trial Friday.

The Rev. Paul Nelson, a worship leader at Westover Baptist Church, filed the complaint against Robertson on March 24.

Robertson, 21, was asked to leave church property several times after causing a disturbance and videotaping at the church, according to a criminal complaint filed by Nelson, which noted that disturbances and recording worship services are forbidden by posted signs on the church’s entrances.

“He refused to leave as he was asked,” Nelson wrote in the complaint. “We continued to ‘walk’ him out until he finally left.”

Robertson works with his father, Johnny Robertson, for religious Review Media, a group that tries to bring accountability to religion and to increase dialogue between different religious organizations.

Robertson and another Religious Review reporter went to the church event to speak with Elmer Towns, co-founder of Liberty University and dean of its School of Religion, who was speaking at the church along with another professor and answering pre-submitted questions from attendees.

Robertson testified he entered a line in the church’s foyer after the event to confront Towns, who was signing books. But the other reporter, who pulled out a camera, was confronted by a church member asking if he was shooting video, he said. Robertson testified he pulled out his video camera to record the confrontation, but never spoke to or recorded Towns.

Robertson said he was unable to leave because he was in a tug-of-war with Nelson over his camera.

“I was trying to make my way out the door,” Robertson said.

Robertson’s attorney, Kenneth Ries, argued no one at the church announced to Robertson they had the authority to make him leave and there was no proof that he took any pictures or video at the event. Ries also questioned whether carrying a video-recording device can constitute trespassing and, in addition, Robertson left the property.

“He did leave, less than a minute after being told the first time to do so,” Ries said. “He was told to leave and he left.”

However, Danville Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney M. Coleman Adams said no-trespassing signs were posted at the church and Robertson was repeatedly told to leave before having to be escorted out of the building. Doug Barber, senior pastor at Westover Baptist Church, gave Nelson the authority to enforce the no-trespassing policy, Adams said.

Stilwell ruled in the prosecution’s favor, saying Robertson didn’t stop recording and leave immediately after being told.

“We understand the judge’s ruling,” Robertson’s attorney, Kenneth Ries, said after the hearing. “We respectfully disagree with it.”

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Category: Church Security

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