Tag Archive: Assault

Black Collar Crime: Pastor Wilmer Cruz and His Wife Assault Police Officers Looking for Runaway

pastor wilmer cruz

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Wilmer Cruz, pastor of Inglesia Cristiana Evangelica Church in Lilburn,Georgia, was arrested Tuesday after he and his wife and two children assaulted police officers looking for a runaway teenager. His wife and two sons were also arrested. According to one news report, the runaway was pregnant by one of Pastor Cruz’s sons.

Raw Story reports:

A minister in Lilburn, Georgia was arrested alongside his wife and sons after they attacked police officers at church.

Atlanta’s WSB-TV reported Tuesday that police in the Gwinnett County church were looking for a runaway teenager who was said to be at the Inglesia Cristiana Evangelica Church when an altercation ensued.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Wilmer and Cristina Cruz, the minister and his wife of the church, were arrested along with their 16 and 17-year-old sons after not cooperating with the officers who came to the church looking for the missing girl, who was later returned to her parents. In the ensuing fight, Cristina Cruz took one of the two officers’ Tasers, and Wilmer and one of their sons pinned an officer against a door.

The parents and their eldest son were charged as adults and are being held without bond, while the 16-year-old son was charged as a juvenile.

…..

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution adds:

“I’ve never seen something that could have been so innocent escalate so quickly because of lack of cooperation,” Lilburn police Lt. Tim Allen told Channel 2.

Authorities said they got a call about a missing girl in the 4800 block of Lawrenceville Highway. They went to rescue the girl, who was in a tan Cadillac Escalade, but things escalated.

“As the officers walked toward the vehicle, several people approached the officers,” Chief Bruce Hedley said in a statement. “Officers repeatedly instructed people to stand back and continued to attempt to speak to the missing juvenile in the parked car.”

Hedley said onlookers didn’t listen, leading to an altercation. Some officers were kicked and choked, he said.

At one point, when an officer put his Taser in Wilmer Cruz’s back, Cristina Cruz grabbed it from the officer’s hand and pointed it at him, video obtained by Channel 2 shows. After Cristina Cruz was arrested, Wilmer Cruz and Wilmer Cruz Jr. were seen pinning an officer against a door. One of the sons was also seen on video taking an officer’s radio.

“At some point during the scuffle, the other officer tried to call for backup but couldn’t because (someone) was on the radio talking on it,” Allen said.
As for the missing girl, she was returned to her mother.

“They had my daughter. They won’t let her have communication with me,” the mother told Channel 2. “The lady at the church was yelling at me. They said they had custody from (the Division of Family and Children Services) but it’s not true.”

WSB adds:

A temporary restraining order was issued for a Gwinnett County minister’s wife a week before she was seen on video brawling with police officers during a missing child rescue, court documents show.

Ana Cardenas Robles filed for the order against Cristina Cruz on March 19, alleging the minister’s wife stalked her and threatened her with deportation and refused to let her have contact with her teenage daughter.

Robles told the court the Cruz family took her daughter, who is pregnant by one of their sons. The family told Channel 2 Action News that the Division of Family and Children Services granted them guardianship.

A restraining order was also filed against Wilmer Cruz, but it was dismissed by a judge, according to court records.

Cristina Cruz is not allowed within 200 feet of Robles, according to the order. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

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An April 3, 2018 Atlanta Journal-Constitution report adds:

When a Lilburn police officer responded to a missing person rescue call at a church last month, he had no idea he’d practically be fighting for his life.

“I was slammed against the glass door, hitting my head very hard against the glass,” Sgt. Ryan Long said in at a preliminary hearing for the Cruz family on Tuesday. “Mr. (Wilmer) Cruz was choking me to the point I couldn’t breathe.”

On March 25, Long and several other officers fought with Cruz, 38, his wife Cristina Cruz and their 17-year-old son Wilmer Cruz Jr. in the parking lot of the family’s church, Iglesia Cristiana Evangelica. The brawl was caught on police body cameras and cellphones.

Authorities said they got a call about a missing girl in the 4800 block of Lawrenceville Highway. They went to rescue the girl, who was in a tan Cadillac Escalade, but things escalated.

Long testified he put his Taser in Wilmer Cruz’s back, but Cristina Cruz grabbed it from his hand and pointed it at the officer.

“I grabbed Mrs. Cruz by the arm and told her she was under arrest for grabbing my Taser,” Long said. “She refused and would only say: ‘Jesus love(s) me.’”

After Cristina Cruz was arrested, Wilmer Cruz and Wilmer Cruz Jr. were seen in the video pinning Long against a door, the officer testified. One of the sons was also seen on video taking an officer’s radio.

Long testified the family likely fought back because they believed: “Officers were not allowed to fight back against them.” The family also threatened to kill his mom, Long said.

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Black Collar Crime: Church Member Assaulted by Security Officer at The Potter’s House, Fort Worth, Texas

bishop td jakes audrey stevenson

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Last Sunday, Audrey Stevenson, a volunteer at The Potter’s House in Fort Worth, Texas, was physically assaulted by a church security officer. While no criminal charges have been filed, the officer in question could face charges at a later date. Please listen to the video at the bottom of this post. It allows people to see what happens behind the scenes at many megachurches. Personally, I found the video disturbing.

The Christian Post reports:

Bishop T.D. Jakes, senior pastor of The Potter’s House megachurch in Dallas, Texas, offered an apology Tuesday to a 22-year-old former female volunteer who was physically assaulted and held against her will at the church’s Fort Worth campus on Sunday.

The assault was captured on video, which has gone viral with over 3 million views. It stemmed from a dispute about whether the volunteer, Audrey Stevenson, was allowed to be on the Forth Worth church stage.

Stevenson had a verbal confrontation with church elder and administrator Rhonda Lewis, who indicated that the volunteer was not authorized to “do anything on the stage” and that she had been removed from service.

A viral partial recording of the dispute made by Stevenson published on Facebook, shows her being blocked by church safety officer Brandon Amie when she tried to leave an office at the church after a discussion between her and Lewis had escalated into a shouting match. She was then handcuffed and restrained as she begged Amie to let her leave.

At one point, she indicated that Amie had his knee in her back as she continued begging him to let her go. Amie explained in the video that he was trying to “explain something” to her about how the church systems work.

In his statement Tuesday, Jakes concluded that despite the nature of the dispute, he was disappointed by the treatment meted out to Stevenson.

“While many of the extenuating circumstances are not shown in the video that was published March 25, 2018, this still does not justify the lack of professionalism exhibited by the safety officer we require and expect from all of our employees. Emotions quickly escalated and a complete breakdown of communication occurred resulting in what played out on video,” Jakes said. “I’m extremely disappointed and apologize for how Ms. Stevenson was treated and the ill-conduct she received. Privately, we will be reaching out to Ms. Stevenson to offer her the apology she rightly deserves.”

He also explained that even though Amie’s prior work with the church had been “positive,” his future employment is now in limbo.

“The safety officer in question’s tenure with us has been a positive one, this unfortunate incident however has endangered his continuance with our ministry pending the outcome of a comprehensive review which is consistent with our protocols,” Jakes said.

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Video Link

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Keith Haskell Accused of Impersonating a Police Officer and Assault

pastor keith haskell

Keith Haskell, pastor of Bridges of Hope Community Church in Owatonna, Minnesota, has been charged with five counts of misdemeanor fifth degree assault, impersonating a peace officer, and felony use of tear gas to immobilize.

CBS-Minnesota reports:

A pastor in southern Minnesota is facing charges for pretending to be a police officer and pepper spraying a teenager he caught shoplifting.

Keith Douglas Haskell, 55, faces five counts of misdemeanor fifth degree assault, in addition to the charge or impersonating a peace officer and felony use of tear gas to immobilize.

“I think he got what he deserves,” said Abraam Rodriguez, one of the teenagers at the center of the case.

Rodriguez said on Sept. 4, he and his cousin went to the Cash Wise grocery store. He admits his cousin shoplifted about $10 in snacks. In the documents, Haskell told officers he saw the teenagers grab cereal and fruit snacks without paying. He said he went outside to write down their license plate, then followed them when they left.

Rodriquez said he pulled his SUV into a nearby apartment parking lot because he didn’t want Haskell to know exactly where he lived.

According to the court documents, witnesses who live near the scene told investigators they could hear Haskell identifying himself out loud as a police officer and trying to pull the teenagers out of the SUV. Haskell is a pastor at Bridges of Hope Community Church.

“He’s like, ‘Put your hands up, put your hands up, I’m a cop. I need you to get out the vehicle,’” Rodriguez said.

In the documents, Rodriguez told officers his cousin swung at Haskell because the pastor aggressively pulled him out of the SUV. Haskell said he then pepper sprayed the teenager in self-defense.

When his cousin ran off, Rodriguez said he stayed put in the driver’s seat.

“I thought he was a police officer, that’s why I didn’t do anything,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not going to not follow orders of a cop.”

In the documents, Rodriguez told investigators that Haskell took his car keys from him and tried to take his cell phone away. Rodriguez was on the phone with him mom to call for help when he said he was pulled out of the SUV by Haskell.

When his mother came outside, she told officers at the scene Haskell had her son pinned up against the SUV. In the documents, Haskell admitted to police he was holding a baton at the time. He told officers that he told the teens he was trying to make a citizen’s arrest.

“I was actually pretty scared because if he was a cop and you see all those videos of cops, police brutality and stuff,” Rodriguez said.

Police took a can of pepper spray and a baton as evidence. When asked for a comment, Haskell referred WCCO to his attorney, Chris Ritts, who released a statement saying: “The police investigation is absurd and flawed. My client was the victim. We will fight these allegations in the courts.”

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In an article titled, What Would Jesus Do to a Teenage Shoplifter, the City Pages reports:

Probably not what Keith Haskell is accused of doing. Haskell, 55, and a pastor at Bridges of Hope Community Church in Owatonna, faces numerous criminal charges for his ham-fisted attempt at vigilante justice against two criminals.

The perps in question? Two teenage boys, one of whom was trying to shoplift $10 worth of snacks from a Cash Wise grocery store.

The incident occurred on September 4, WCCO reports, when Haskell spotted the shoplifter pocket “cereal and fruit snacks without paying.” According to the Steele County Attorney criminal complaint against Haskell, the pastor went out to the parking lot to take down the license plate of the teens’ vehicle.

Haskell also followed the teenagers, who pulled into the parking lot of an apartment building, at which point Haskell approached, identified himself as a police officer, and told them to put their hands up. According to Abraam Rodriguez, one of the two boys involved, Haskell roughly grabbed for his cousin, the one who’d stolen the snacks.

The boy took a swing at Haskell, who responded by pepper-spraying him before he ran off. Haskell says he used the pepper-spray in self defense, but he’s facing a charge of unlawfully using of tear gas, a felony.

By that time, Rodriguez had used his cellphone called his mom for help. When she arrived, she found Haskell, who was holding a baton, had pinned Abraam against his SUV. Haskell would later tell police he was merely trying to execute a citizen’s arrest of the teenager.

Rodriguez, for his part, says he wishes Haskell had done the easier thing and called the actual cops.

“If I were to be in his shoes or whatever, I wouldn’t chase after people that stole candy from a store,” Rodriguez told WCCO.

Haskell faces five counts of misdemeanor assault, one of impersonating a peace officer, plus the felony tear gas charge. Haskell is due in court November 30. His defense attorney Chris Ritts told the station the charges have the whole situation flipped around.

“The police investigation is absurd and flawed,” Ritts says. “My client was the victim.”

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Peter Leon Convicted of Assault

pastor peter leon

Peter Leon, pastor of Wells Branch Baptist Church (also known as Trinity Coastal Community Church) in Wells, Maine and owner of Leon’s International Tennis Center, was convicted last week of assault against a minor. Leon is a 1984 graduate of New England Bible College — an unaccredited Evangelical institution.

Donna Buttarazzi, a reporter for Sea Coast Online, reports:

A former high school tennis coach and current pastor of Wells Branch Baptist Church (also known as Trinity Coastal Community Church) was found guilty by a jury in York County Superior Court Thursday of an assault against a 15-year-old girl that took place at a Sanford McDonald’s in October 2016.

Peter W. Leon of Wells was charged with assault against a minor, a Class D misdemeanor, for touching the girl’s back and allegedly making sexual comments to the Sanford girl at the restaurant last fall. The two did not know each other prior to the incident.

Leon was sentenced Friday afternoon to 60 days in jail and a mandatory $300 fine. Judge Deborah Cashman suspended all 60 days, meaning Leon will not serve any jail time as long as he meets all sentencing requirements. Cashman ordered Leon to participate in counseling, including formal training on sexual harassment, and ordered that he have no contact with the victim or her family.

The trial began Thursday morning and ran all day, with closing arguments from both attorneys beginning around 3 p.m. The jury deliberated for roughly two hours before reaching a verdict just before 6 p.m.

The jury found Leon guilty of offensive physical contact which is defined under Maine law as “knowingly intending bodily contact or unlawful touching done in such a manner as would reasonably be expected to violate the person or dignity of the victim.”

Prosecuting attorney Susan Pope said she was pleased with Cashman’s sentencing.

“I’m pleased with the sentence. I think the judge got it right,” Pope said following the sentencing.

In her opening arguments during the trial Thursday Pope said Leon entered the Sanford south McDonald’s at 1439 Main St. around 3:30 p.m. on the afternoon of Oct. 24, 2016 and approached the girl, placed his hand on her back and said, “These jeans are looking pretty good on you, they are nice and tight in all the right places. Trust me, they look good.”

….

Leon pleaded not guilty to the charge. His attorney Amy Fairfield said in court Thursday morning that her client put his hand on the girl’s shoulder and asked her if she was in line.

Leon testified that he wasn’t sure if the girl was in line and he didn’t want to cut in front of her. He denied saying the comments about the girls jeans.

“It was so quick in and out of the restaurant, and I didn’t want to cut the line. I was making a comment and I used the word ‘dungarees,’ and then I said jeans. I didn’t think it was derogatory. I didn’t know how she could get those jeans on at the ankle they were so tight fitted,” Leon said in his testimony Thursday.

The 12-member jury of five men and seven women viewed a surveillance video from the McDonald’s restaurant several times during the trial. In it a man confirmed to be Leon entered the restaurant, approached the girl and appeared to speak to her and touch her on the back or shoulder area. Shortly after the incident the girl can be seen leaving the restaurant and her mother entered and confronted Leon.

The girl’s mother had been waiting in the car while her daughter went in to get food. She received a text and phone call from her daughter while she was waiting.

“I thought she needed more money, so I grabbed my wallet, and I got out of the car to go in. Before I touched the door to the restaurant, she came out crying. She said this man had touched her and talked really dirty to her. I said ‘what man?’ and she pointed to him (Leon).”

Sanford Police officer Sarah Howe testified that the girl’s mother called 911 from the restaurant. Howe said she spoke with the mother who gave her a license plate number of the car Leon left in. Howe also testified that she spoke with the girl following the incident, and she was clearly upset over the phone.

Howe spoke with Leon the day after the incident via telephone and he said he didn’t recall his exact words to the girl.

….

Leon is a former tennis coach for both boys and girls at Wells High School and he coached girls tennis in 2016 at Kennebunk High School for one year. Fairfield said that following his indictment last fall, both schools told Leon he could no longer coach.

In 2001, Leon was charged with witness tampering.

The Sea Coast Online reported at the time:

Leon, who is the current president of the Wells Rotary Club, is not a newcomer to serving in public office. Before moving to Wells, he was the minister at the First Congregational Church of Machias. In 1998 he was elected to the Calais School Committee. Leon was unable to serve the full three-year term due to being recalled in a special recall election in July 1999.

Leon took out nomination papers again in 2001 while under indictment by a grand jury for witness tampering. According to press reports, Leon had been hired by the Calais school system to tutor Michael Poole, a student that had been suspended after criminal charges were filed against him for $30,000 worth of damages to school property.

Leon was charged with witness tampering in 2001 after police taped a conversation he had with an inmate, Justin McVay, that had also been accused of vandalizing the school, articles state. According to the Bangor Daily News, Leon was indicted for attempting to coerce McVay to admit that Poole had nothing to do with the school vandalism.

Leon went to trial in April 2002 and was found not guilty.