Man alleges city of Houston arrested him three times for exercising religious rights

By John Suayan, Galveston Bureau | May 20, 2013

HOUSTON - The city of Houston is facing a lawsuit from a man claiming his religious rights were infringed upon.

In court papers filed May 15 in Houston federal court, David Allen alleges that the Houston Police Department arrested him three times for "his constitutional, religious speech and expressive activity" on city streets.

Houston Police Chief Charles F. McClelland and officers F. Gallegos, J. Montelongo and A.H. Cisneros are also defendants in the case.

According to his lawsuit, Allen states that as a "peaceful" street preacher dressed in a wool prayer shawl, he spreads his message of God's love and Christianity through speaking as well as sounding the shofar, a ram's horn "which makes a melodic and pleasing sound."

His first arrest was on May 16, 2011, when Gallegos apprehended him as he prayed on a public sidewalk in front of a Planned Parenthood Clinic in the 4600 block of the Gulf Freeway.

The plaintiff says he suffered from dehydration while sitting in the backseat of the patrol car, and his repeated pleas for help were met with chiding.

After reportedly collapsing, he was taken by ambulance to the Memorial Hermann Hospital emergency room.

Authorities never formally charged the complainant.

Nearly six months later, on Oct. 31, 2011, officers, Montelogo among them, purportedly arrested him at the intersection of Westheimer Road and Montrose Boulevard.

The original petition shows Allen tried to film the encounter on his iPhone only for police to confiscate the device, force him to the ground and handcuff him.

He again required medical attention since he fainted in the unit, the suit says.

It adds "insufficient evidence" prompted the prosecutor handling his case to dismiss the charges.

The third and final time the defendants arrested Allen was on Jan. 14, 2012, in Downtown Houston during the Houston Marathon.

Allen's ministry insists it coordinated with another street preacher and HPD's Central Intelligence Division; however, Cisneros later took the men into custody and seized the complainant's video camera and shofar, the original petition says.

Allen recalls a female officer telling him that as "a true Christian, you would stay in your house and read your Bible," stating he faced charges of failing to obey a lawful order and possessing a "staff" that were later dropped because Cisneros failed to appear for court.

The suit ultimately accuses the respondents of violating Allen's constitutional rights.

A jury trial is requested.

Attorney Jerad Wayne Najvar of the Najvar Law Firm in Houston is representing the plaintiff.

Case No. 4:13-CV-1416

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