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City drops charges against Ohio pastor who housed homeless in church overnight

Dad's Place Pastor Chris Avell First Liberty

City drops charges against Ohio pastor who housed homeless in church overnight

On Thursday, a judge in Bryan Municipal Court granted a motion to dismiss the 18 criminal charges against Ohio pastor Chris Avell for violating zoning ordinances. The city of Bryan charged Avell, who pastors the church Dad’s Place, in December for allowing homeless people to sleep in the church overnight. Officials said the building did not have the proper building permits and zoning allowances to be used in a residential capacity. The First Liberty Institute, representing Dad’s Place, filed a federal lawsuit against the city in January, accusing officials of unconstitutionally targeting and harassing the church based on religion.

City officials claim the investigation into the church began after emergency responders received an influx of calls from Dad’s Place for “criminal mischief, trespassing, overdose, larceny, harassment, disturbing the peace, and sexual assault.” The city says it then discovered people were living in the church, which led investigators to notice the building’s improper zoning. That also prompted a fire safety inspection.

Do we know why the charges were dropped? All charges against Avell were dismissed without prejudice. Federal court records show litigators for Dad’s Place and the city of Bryan met for a settlement conference days earlier. Although no settlement was made, a court summary describes that “extensive discussions were had,” and “parties agreed on a series of measures that will be implemented during the next week to address disputed issues.” First Liberty released a joint statement with Bryan city officials on Thursday confirming that with the dropping of Avell’s charges, the church has “agreed to cease residential operations and to seek proper building certifications.” The statement also noted that “negotiations continue as both sides seek to find a final resolution to the matter.”

Dig deeper: Read First Liberty attorney Jeremy Dys’s column about the case in WORLD Opinions.

Christina Grube

Christina Grube is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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