On Wednesday, February 25, 2015, outside of the DMV in Torrance, CA, a street preacher named Tatsuo Akamine was arrested by an officer with the California Highway Patrol. He was first detained for investigation of disturbing the peace with loud noise (415 PC). As of the time of writing this article, I do not know what were the arresting charges.
Before I comment further, here is a video that documents the officer making contact with Tatsuo, which runs through to moments after his arrest. I do not know what happened before or after the segment of time captured in this video.
Please watch the video in its entirety, before you continue reading.
My Bona Fides to Write This Article
While many of my readers are familiar with my law enforcement and evangelism background, there will likely be several people who read this article who have no idea who I am. And they may wonder, “What gives him the right to…..”
I have 20 years of law enforcement experience and 10 years of street evangelism and open-air preaching experience. I made thousands of arrests during my law enforcement career, and I served as a field training officer for a portion of that career.
I’ve been threatened with citation and/or arrest many times while open-air preaching.
I was cited once by an LAPD officer on Hollywood Boulevard who lied on the citation (citing me for using amplification when I had none on my person) and, being Korean himself, encouraged me to go to North Korea to “sell God.” The significance of the Korean-American officer suggesting I go to North Korea instead of South Korea should not be lost on you, the reader.
I was arrested in London, on July 1, 2013, for allegations of breach of peace and homophobic hate speech. I was held for seven hours and interrogated about not only the incident, but what I thought and felt about homosexuality as a Christian. I was subsequently released from custody with no charges preferred against me.
I was arrested in Dundee, Scotland, on January 8, 2014, for allegations of breach of peace and homophobic hate speech. I was held for 30 hours and charges were filed against me. In June of 2014, all charges were dropped after investigators and prosecutors reviewed the video evidence of my open-air preaching.
I have provided training and counsel–in person, by phone, and in writing, to thousands of Christians (and several churches) regarding how to interact with private security and law enforcement. I have also provided counsel to a number of brothers in Christ following their arrests, which stemmed from open-air preaching and other forms of street evangelism.
I have written and commented extensively regarding issues pertaining to how Christians should interact with law enforcement, in the context of public evangelism. One article I wrote has seen wide distribution.
I have been on both sides of the criminal justice system, and I have something to say.
Personal Context and Disclosure
I met Tatsuo Akamine outside of Staples Center, during the 2009 NBA championship series. He was one of a number of open-air preachers present that day. Tatsuo was friends with several of the men present–men whom I respect and hold in high regard. To the best of my recollection, I have not seen or talked to Tatsuo since that day. All I know of Tatsuo I’ve gleaned from watching portions of just a few of his open-air preaching videos.
I have known several men–good men–who, over the years, have preached at the Torrance DMV. Each of them experienced both positive and negative contacts with people standing in line, DMV security, and law enforcement. The fact that Tatsuo was contacted by law enforcement, in and of itself, is no reason to automatically assume Tatsuo did anything to create or instigate a negative contact with law enforcement.
Furthermore, I would like to restate the following. I was not there. I was not at the Torrance DMV when this happened. As I said at the beginning of this article, I have no idea what happened before the video starts or after the video ends.
However, having only the video to critique does not invalidate a critique limited to the content of the video. I did not have to be at the Torrance DMV to speak about what I saw in this video.
Did You Talk to Tatsuo, First?
I am sure to be asked the following questions certainly by some of those who will not like this article. “Did you talk to Tatsuo before writing this article?”
I have no ax to grind with Tatsuo. I haven’t seen, heard from, or thought of him in some six years. Our paths have simply not crossed. I don’t know what his doctrinal positions are now. I didn’t know what they were when I met him. I don’t know if he is walking down the path of apostasy like some of the open-air preachers out there, or if he is a theological Rock of Gibraltar.
I am under no ethical or moral obligation to talk to Tatsuo about this video before writing this article. This video has been made part of the public record, presumably by the person who made the recording, which was made at Tatsuo’s request, as evidenced at the beginning of the video. I am no more obligated to contact Tatsuo before writing this article than I am obligated to contact the CHP officer before writing this article. I am no more obligated to contact Tatsuo than you are obligated to contact an author before writing a review of his or her book, or a producer before writing a review of his film.
What Tatsuo Did Right
The video makes it clear that Tatsuo positioned himself on a public sidewalk adjacent to DMV property. Therefore, regulations that apply to the exercise of free speech on DMV property did not apply to Tatsuo’s open-air preaching on a public sidewalk. While Tatsuo’s distance from the crowd is not germane, the video also shows that there was quite a bit of distance between Tatsuo and the people standing in line outside the DMV.
Tatsuo had someone with him making a video recording.
These days, the Christian who takes to the streets to proclaim the gospel in any way whatsoever and does so without having a voice recorder and/or video camera with him is simply foolish. Had it not been for the presence of a video camera, I might still be in a Scottish prison to this day. Had I been found guilty on all charges and enhancements, my exposure was up to five years in prison.
Tatsuo did not raise his voice or become overly animated while he talked to the officer. Had Tatsuo done otherwise, the officer could have perceived that as a precursor to a physical attack.
Tatsuo put the large cone down, on the ground. With it out of his hands, the officer was less likely to perceive the cone as a potential weapon.
Tatsuo, to a point, engaged the officer in respectful and reasonable conversation, asking legitimate questions.
There is nothing wrong with asking the officer for information regarding the law(s) allegedly violated. There is nothing wrong with asking the officer if he was being detained or was facing arrest.
Not knowing what Tatsuo preached prior to the start of the video, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that one thing Tatsuo did right was tried to preach the gospel to lost people.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, based on my training and experience, this is where the list of things Tatsuo did right comes to an end.
What Did Tatsuo Do Wrong?
Tatsuo initially refused to give the officer his identification.
Tatsuo was lawfully detained for the investigation of a crime. It matters not whether a crime was actually committed. Officers lawfully detain people every day for investigation of infractions, misdemeanors, and felonious crimes, later to determine that no crime was committed. The officer was there, either because someone called to complain about the preaching or because the officer observed what he believed could have been a violation of law. Under these circumstances, Tatsuo was obligated, by law, to show the officer his identification.
The moment Tatsuo refused to show his identification to the officer, he was subject to arrest. The officer was not required to ask Tatsuo more than once for his identification. The officer was under no obligation whatsoever to negotiate with Tatsuo.
The moment Tatsuo refused to show his identification, since he was being lawfully detained, he was also subject to search. The law allows for an officer to conduct a patdown search of a person being lawfully detained for weapons, for reasons of officer safety. The law also allows for an officer to search someone being lawfully detained for identification when the person being detained either cannot or refuses to show identification.
The moment Tatsuo refused to comply with the officer’s lawful orders to turn around and place his hands over his head, for the purpose of either a cursory search for weapons or a search for his identification, he was subject to arrest. The officer, at that moment, could use whatever amount of force he deemed both reasonable and necessary to overcome Tatsuo’s resistance.
Tatsuo was right in one sense when he told the officer he had “a choice” as to whether or not to comply with the officer. What he experienced from that moment were the consequences of a bad choice. He was not being persecuted at that moment; he was breaking the law by physically resisting an officer.
Tatsuo was very fortunate that he was not injured. The way Tatsuo locked up his body and clenched his hands together, which are behaviors that are obvious to even the untrained eye watching the video, were aggressive acts, which could lead a reasonable officer to believe a physical altercation was imminent. Again, the officer is, at this point, justified to use whatever level of force necessary to overcome Tatsuo’s resistance. The officer was not obligated to “play fair” or use the same level of force Tatsuo was using to resist.
Even though Tatsuo was resisting, the officer shows commendable restraint by trying to deescalate the situation through conversation–explaining his “plan” to Tatsuo.
Tatsuo, not the officer, then re-escalates the situation by refusing to comply with the officer. He refuses to obey the officer’s lawful command to “turn around,” and then he resists the officer’s efforts to turn him around.
Tatsuo momentarily resists the officer’s command and efforts to place Tatsuo’s hands above his head. Tatsuo then refuses to spread his legs and resists, multiple times, the officer’s efforts to move his legs so he could safely conduct a search of Tatsuo’s person, incident to a lawful arrest.
Even after being handcuffed, Tatsuo continues to physically and unlawfully resist the officer.
Then, Tatsuo and his friends begin to make a scene by shouting.
Any officer–any reasonable officer–would experience myriad of emotions as a result of recognizing he or she was in real and present danger. That the officer didn’t put out an assistance request at this moment is a discussion for another time. I cannot get into the officer’s head to ascertain to what degree he was in fear for his safety.
Tatsuo then foolishly asks his friend with the camera to follow him, now putting his friend in potential danger and maybe even making him subject to arrest.
For reasons of officer safety, the officer’s order to Tatsuo’s friend not to follow him was reasonable and appropriate, considering the circumstances. The officer even told Tatsuo’s friend, “You’re violating my officer safety!” But foolishly, the person behind the camera argues with the officer.
The video ends with Tatsuo being escorted in handcuffs to the patrol car, while Tatsuo shouts Scripture quotes about persecution. Another person, away from the camera, begins to preach.
While I do not believe Tatsuo was in violation of California Penal Code section 415 (disturbing the peace), I also do not believe Tatsuo was persecuted for his faith. I believe he simply suffered the consequences for his unlawful behavior. And, sadly, that same behavior brought a reproach upon Christ and His gospel.
What the Officer Did Wrong
Tatsuo was not the only one to make mistakes, egregious mistakes, in this situation. The officer made mistakes, too.
As many street cops seem to be these days, the CHP officer in this video appears to have a wrong understanding about the relationship between catch-all “disturbing the peace” laws and ordinances and a person’s First Amendment right to open his mouth, raise his voice, and proclaim his deeply held religious beliefs, regardless of the religion, in a public place.
Piecing together what I can from just a six-minute video, it appears the officer’s assertion that Tatsuo was disturbing the peace was a result of a complaint or complaints made by people standing in line at the DMV regarding Tatsuo’s loud preaching. Having received those complaints, the CHP dispatched the officer to the DMV.
The fact that people were bothered by Tatsuo’s preaching, in and of itself, does not necessarily constitute disturbing the peace. The Bill of Rights protects the freedom of religion not the freedom from religion. The First Amendment protects a person’s right to speak, not a person’s desire not to hear something in a public place they don’t like. In other words, a heckler doesn’t have veto power over someone lawfully speaking in a public place.
In a 1951 Supreme Court case, Feiner v. New York, the Supreme Court “reaffirmed that a speaker cannot be arrested for the content of his speech, and that the police must not be used as an instrument to silence unpopular views, but must be used to silence a speaker who is trying to incite a riot.”
While the courts are trying to change legal precedence that has stood for more than 60 years, for now the law of the land remains that the government cannot silence public speech simply because listeners are annoyed or even offended by the content of the speech.
In the video, the officer cited that Tatsuo was using amplification. Most municipal ordinances, when regulating the use of amplification, specify that amplified sound refers to sound which is electronically enhanced/amplified. In most cases, using a cheerleader-type cone does not constitute, in a legal sense, amplified sound. Tatsua can be heard in the video, more than once, trying to explain to the officer that he has talked to Torrance PD officers on multiple occasions and that he has received some assurances that standing on the sidewalk and preaching with a cone falls within the guidelines of local ordinances.
Curious as to what the noise regulations are for the City of Torrance, I looked up the code. Under “Definitions,” in section 46.1.2 (j), it reads:
“Sound amplifying equipment shall mean any machine or device for the amplification of the human voice, music, or any other sound. Sound amplifying equipment shall not include standard automobile radios when used and heard only by the occupants of the vehicle in which the automobile radio is installed. Sound amplifying equipment, as used in this Chapter, shall not include warning devices on authorized emergency vehicles or horns or other warning devices on any vehicle used only for traffic safety purposes.”
The City of Torrance’s definition of “sound amplification equipment” is vague, at best. Unfortunately, this gives officers on the street a great deal of latitude when determining what is and what isn’t sound amplification equipment. While most officers would not see Tatsuo’s cheerleader cone as an amplification device, the code leaves room for an officer to have a differing opinion.
In section 46.5.3 of the City of Torrance Municipal Code, guidelines are given for the use of amplified sound. Once again, the ordinance is vague, not specifying amplified sound as that which is produced electronically.
While the officer could have legitimately (although, in my opinion, unreasonably) considered Tatsuo’s cone “amplified sound,” the officer still had a problem. The officer insisted that Tatsuo was not allowed to be, well, loud–that raising his voice was a violation of 415 PC. The City of Torrance Municipal Code, like most municipal codes are not on the officer’s side.
In order for the officer to make a legal determination that Tatsuo’s preaching was “too loud,” the officer is required by statute to use a device to determine just how loud Tatsuo’s preaching was. The law does not allow for an officer’s subjective determination as to what does and does not constitute noise that is “too loud.” According to section 46.1.3 of the City of Torrance Municipal Code:
“Noise levels shall be measured with a sound level meter satisfying the requirements of ASA S1.4-1961, American Standard Specification for General Purpose Sound Level Meters, or latest revision thereof. Noise level of steady or slowly varying sounds shall be measured using the slow dynamic characteristic of the sound level meter and by reading the central tendency of the needle. Noise level of impulse sounds shall be measured using the fast dynamic characteristic of the sound level meter and by reading the maximum indication of the needle.”
Section 46.7.2 gives very specific enforcement guidelines in which readings of both ambient and source noise levels must be taken before a determination of a code violation can be determined.
The officer was wrong. He was wrong about his application of 415 PC, and he was wrong by applying an arbitrary standard for what constituted loud noise.
There were at least three ways Tatsuo could have handled this situation:
1. Submit to the officer’s request to stop preaching, contact legal representation such as Alliance Defending Freedom, and allow attorneys to try to bring the situation to a positive resolution–one that would allow Tatsuo to continue preaching at the Torrance DMV
2. Refuse to submit to the officer’s request to stop preaching, subject himself to arrest, and peaceably allow himself to either be cited in the field, or be taken to the station where he would likely be booked, cited, and released. He could then challenge the law in the courts.
3. Go the hard way….. Refuse to comply with the officer’s request to stop preaching, resist arrest, create more legal problems for himself, and bring a reproach upon Christ and His gospel. This was the choice Tatsuo made. This was the worst and most unbiblical choice of the three.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience” (Romans 13:1-5).
The governing authority, in this case a CHP officer, was wrong in his application of the law. Yet in this situation, Tatsuo should have submitted to his authority. The officer responded to a complaint of noise. There is no evidence (and conspiracy theorists may hate me for this one) that the officer asked Tatsuo to stop preaching because of the content of his message. This was not an Acts 3-5 situation. Tatsuo was not ordered to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. He was ordered to, well, pipe down. There is no indication that this officer would not have acted the same way, making the same mistakes and doing the same right things, if Tatsuo had been a street preaching Muslim or Mormon.
Tatsuo was not persecuted for what he said. He was not persecuted for righteousness sake (Matthew 5:10-11). No; sadly, Tatsuo was detained and subsequently arrested for what he did.
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:13-17).
Tatsuo had an opportunity to bring glory to Christ. He had the opportunity to silence the ignorance of foolish people. But he missed both opportunities and chose to sin instead. Instead of silencing those standing in line who may have been mocking Christ and His gospel, Tatsuo’s behavior, particularly toward the officer, gave mockers and revilers more opportunity to store up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath (Romans 2:5). Tatsuo’s behavior likely encouraged blasphemers and haters of God to foolishly further justify their unbelief.
I do not know or even presume to know Tatsuo’s heart. So, I cannot say that in this situation Tatsuo used his freedom in Christ and freedom as an American citizen as a cover-up for evil. I am only evaluating his actions in the context of the video. However, I believe Tatsuo wrongly tried to assert his freedoms and did so in such away that resulted in evil–sin.
Again, the officer was wrong in his application of the law, but he did not behave unbecomingly in the video. He was not disrespectful toward Tatsuo or anyone else in his group. While his application of 415 PC was in error, he behaved professionally. The officer did not threaten Tatsuo in order to force or coerce him to choose man over God. The officer did not order him, under threat of harm or imprisonment, to not teach in the name of Jesus. The officer, while wrong in his application of a particular penal code section, acted professionally, patiently, and again, showed commendable restraint when Tatsuo began to physically resist him.
Tatsuo did not, as a servant of God, honor the officer. By resisting arrest and then creating a scene, which could have escalated the situation into something more dangerous for both Tatsuo and the officer, Tatsuo disobeyed and physically challenged a man put in place as an authoritative representative of the government. He dishonored one serving as a representative of an institution established by God. Tatsuo did not break the law by raising his voice on a public sidewalk, outside the Torrance DMV. But he did break the law, multiple laws, when he escalated the situation and refused to obey the officer. He sinned. He needs to publicly confess his public sin and repent before God.
What Will Be The Outcome?
Had this situation ended quietly with Tatsuo receiving a citation for disturbing the peace, I doubt he would have ever seen the inside of a courtroom. I believe as soon as the district attorney or a judge saw the circumstances surrounding the citation, the case would have been dismissed.
There is still the possibility of that happening. It is possible, in spite of Tatsuo’s actual crimes post-contact with the officer, depending on whether or not other charges beyond 415 PC are filed, that any and all charges might be dismissed. It is possible the D.A. will look at the totality of the circumstances, see that Tatsuo’s other crimes, which did not result in injury to the officer, were the result of the officer’s misapplication of 415 PC, and dismiss the case.
However, Tatsuo upped the ante when he refused to show his identification, resisted arrest, and created a disturbance as he was being escorted to the patrol car. The D.A. could choose not to file the 415 PC charge and simply file a charge of resisting an officer. The D.A. could concede that Tatsuo did not disturb the peace, but he interfered with an officer in the performance of his duties.
Of course, a dozen other scenarios could play out, with the outcome being something I’m not considering.
The Sovereignty of God in Tatsuo’s Sin
Tatsuo’s behavior, as dishonoring as it was to Christ and His gospel, did not and will not push a single person away from Jesus. No one’s salvation is contingent upon how Tatsuo behaved during this incident. If the CHP officer or the people standing in line at the DMV, or anyone else present at the time of Tatsuo’s arrest were offended by Tatsuo’s behavior, or if any of them are presently using his behavior as an excuse for their unbelief, there is nothing that Tatsuo did or said that can or will thwart the predetermined, eternal plan of God for the before-mentioned people.
That being said, God’s sovereignty does not give me, Tatsuo, or any other Christian a license to sin. The extent to which God will discipline Tatsuo for what he did, only God knows. Whatever God decides to do and/or allow will be good and perfect and loving toward Tatsuo. Of this we can be assured (Hebrews 12:7-11).
I hope Tatsuo will read this. Although the article is critical of his behavior, I hope he will be able to receive what is written in the spirit it is written.
I hope Tatsuo is released from custody soon, if he hasn’t been released already.
I hope Tatsuo does not spend any time in jail if he is found guilty, in a court of law. I doubt that will happen, anyway. With the jail overcrowding and the minor nature of Tatsuo’s offenses, if he is found guilty he is probably looking at a fine and probation.
I hope Tatsuo will learn from his mistakes. I hope he will humble himself enough to be able to see the mistakes he made.
I hope this situation draws Tatsuo closer to Christ and is used by God to further mature his faith.
And I hope in this situation and in all things the Lamb will receive the reward for His suffering.