Aug 22, 2016

Convictions overturned for woman arrested during 2014 satanic "black mass" protest in Oklahoma City

The Oklahoman

by Kyle Schwab 

August 22, 2016


A New Jersey woman who refused to cease kneeling and praying outside the Oklahoma City Civic Center during a satanic “black mass” in 2014 has had her municipal convictions of disorderly conduct and other offenses overturned.

By phone Friday, Joan Bell, 68, expressed joy in response to the ruling made last week by Oklahoma's Court of Criminal Appeals. She said she attended the Sept. 21, 2014, protest of the black mass, a parody of the Catholic Mass, to pray against what she calls “a hate crime.”

“I don't believe that the government or (any) city should cooperate with any kind of hate crime,” Bell said. “It's a hate crime against the Catholic faith and Catholic people and against my Lord.”

Bell, a longtime activist who said she has been arrested hundreds of times, was arrested during the protest after she refused to stop kneeling while praying the rosary on a landing at the top of the north steps of the Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Couch Drive.

“Although she remained on the landing ... for a couple of hours, Bell was only asked to leave the premises after she knelt to pray,” Appellate Judge Arlene Johnson wrote in the opinion ordering the reversal of Bell's conviction.

Bell initially was charged with two municipal offenses, trespassing on   private property and interference with official process. Each count was later amended. 

At a nonjury trial, Bell was found guilty in May 2015 of the amended municipal counts, disorderly conduct and interfering or obstructing by disobeying a lawful command. Bell was fined $500 for each count. 

Bell appealed, alleging she was not trespassing and her arrest was unlawful. She argued Oklahoma City presented insufficient evidence and was punishing First Amendment- protected activity. 

The appeals court threw out the convictions on each count because of insufficient evidence.

Johnson wrote her opinion for the majority.

Of five appellate judges, four agreed with the reversal of each conviction and the other opposed only the reversal of the disobeying a lawful command conviction. 

According to Johnson's opinion, a person is guilty of disorderly conduct if that person intentionally inhibits access to an entrance to a public building. 

The municipal judge at Bell's trial acknowledged the door she knelt by was not an entrance, “but found that Bell intentionally blocked an entrance and failed to cooperate with officers upon being arrested,” according to Johnson's opinion. 

Johnson disagreed with the municipal trial judge. She wrote that black mass ticket holders were only being admitted through one door. The door that Bell knelt near was an exit with no outer handle, so Bell didn't obstruct access to the Civic Center during the event, according to the opinion.

Bell's attorney, Matthew Kane, said the trial court “went wrong” by broadening the meaning of the municipal code, which refers to not obstructing an entrance but says nothing about exits.

“You can't read the code broader than how it's written,” Kane said.

“You shouldn't be arrested for something that's not a crime on the books.”

Johnson also wrote that because Bell was on public property and not trespassing, the order to leave given by police was not lawful. Because of this, Bell wasn't disobeying a lawful command when she resisted officers by not standing and going “limp” when arrested, according to the opinion. 

“In these times where there's some potential unrest between police and others, it's important to realize that you don't have to do exactly what you're told if you haven't done anything wrong. But at the same time, it has to be reasonable, too,” Kane said. 

Kane said he represented Bell for free. 

Bell said she believes she has been arrested more than 200 times.

She said she has traveled across the nation and to more than a dozen countries since the 1970s in efforts against abortion. In the past, she has gone by Joan Andrews Bell. 

She attended the most recent black mass protest Aug. 15 in Oklahoma City.

She currently lives in Plainfield, N.J., with her husband and seven children.


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