Ex-cop says trespassing arrest while handing out religious leaflets at mall violates free speech rights
A former cop said his arrest on trespassing charges while handing out religious pamphlets at a New Jersey mall violated his right to free expression.
David Wells, of Ocean Township, said only wanted to talk to shoppers about his born-again Christian faith when he went Nov. 5 to Monmouth Mall and handed out leaflets that looked like a trillion-dollar bill.
The handouts bore the question: “Will you go to heaven when you die?”
“That’s how our conversation would begin,” Wells said. “If they weren’t interested in talking I didn’t pursue it any more.”
Security guards asked the 57-year-old Wells to stop handing out the leaflets but he refused, and mall security called Eatontown police.
Wells said he wasn’t disturbing anyone but just talking to other shoppers.
“I wasn’t amplified, I wasn’t street preaching on top of a soapbox,” said Wells, who retired from the Long Branch police department in 1997.
Police said the mall’s management offered to make reasonable accommodations for Wells to hand out leaflets in accordance with the shopping center’s solicitation policy but asked him to stop at that time.
Officers said Wells disagreed, and he refused to stop handing out the leaflets and refused to leave the mall.
So police arrested him on defiant trespass charges.
Wells said a 1994 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling on a case involving Gulf War protesters had defined malls as the modern town square, so mall owners must allow citizens to hand out leaflets both inside and outside shopping centers.
Monmouth Mall, which is owned by Vornado Realty Trust, declined to comment, but its code of conduct outlined on the mall’s website permits picketing, leafleting, soliciting or petitioning with prior written consent from mall management.
Wells admits he didn’t have consent, but a petition has been started on his behalf asking the mall’s owner to change its policies to “comply with the protections of the United States Constitution and judicial case law banning discrimination.”
[Image: Intentional Blurred Image of People in Shopping Center via Shutterstock]