Two men guilty of misdemeanor simple assault against a Fondren resident “pose an ongoing danger to the citizens of Jackson,” according to an opinion issued by Jackson Municipal Judge Jeff Reynolds.
Reynolds sentenced Allen Siders to a fine of $500 and six months in county jail and Bryan Peden to a fine of $500 and three months in county jail after hearing a case that involved an ongoing campaign of threats from April to July against Matthew Robert Camp, a Fondren resident.
Reynolds set the men’s secured appearance bonds at $500,000 each.
Reynolds wrote in his opinion that Siders and Peden “were perfectly willing to traumatize young children while screaming insults at their parents through a voice amplifying device while only a few feet from them. This Court finds particularly troubling the fact that Mr. Siders believes it is acceptable to scream at a police officer that he is a coward, a sissy, and effeminate. These defendants, as demonstrated by their unhinged, delusional behavior, believe the law doesn’t apply to them. They are wrong: the law does apply to them.”
Camp testified that Siders and Peden on multiple occasions aggressively confronted and threatened him, shouted in his face that he was a fornicating sinner going to hell, and waved a Bible by his face like they would strike him with it.
Camp described walking in Fondren with his girlfriend, Amber Kipfmiller, when Siders, using a voice amplification system, would scream at him and Kipfmiller, calling him a fornicator and her a “Jezebel” and wave a Bible in his face.
Camp alleged on May 1 that Siders and Peden stood outside The Bean coffee shop in Fondren for more than an hour and screamed through a voice amplification system at Camp, who was among people sitting outside, calling Camp and the others sinners and threatening that they were going to hell.
Siders testified he worked in the landscaping business and is a preacher, who often goes to Fondren to preach both at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JHWO), which is located at 2903 N. State St., and at neighboring businesses. Siders said he is the preacher at The Church at Jackson, which he said has 30 members, and the judge considered the church able to help the two men flee the court’s jurisdiction.
Peden testified that he works at the Mississippi Department of Transportation and has been preaching at the “abortion mill” for about four or five years. Peden told the judge nothing that happened in court mattered because his sole focus is on eternity, a statement that the judge interpreted to mean that Peden would have no hesitation about fleeing the court’s jurisdiction.
The Court recognized that the defendants have a First Amendment right to peacefully protest abortion and peacefully congregate in public spaces to promote their religious beliefs, stating:
“This, however, is not a case involving peaceful protests or protected speech. This case presents repeated threats specifically targeted at a particular individual — Mr. Camp — who has no connection at all with the Women’s Clinic (JWHO). Mr. Camp, a neighborhood resident wishing to peacefully walk about his own community’s local businesses, has for months endured an ongoing campaign by him,” according to the opinion.
Camp’s fear is justified according to the opinion, as “the terror created by the Defendants comes among a history of violent acts perpetrated by such anti-abortion extremists.”
The opinion goes on to say that “defendants who label themselves not simply abortion protestors but ‘preachers’ have recently undertaken a different, much more aggressive tack. The evidence shows that defendants Siders and Peden, while originally inspired to protest the JWHO, have turned much of their focus to neighboring businesses and their patrons. Using voice amplification technology to indiscriminately shriek at those unfortunate enough, for instance, to be enjoying a cup of coffee or sandwich on one of the area’s outdoor patios.That any business patron would have to endure unrelenting, amplified screams of ‘SINNER!’, “REPENT!’ and “YOU”RE GOING TO HELL!’ while minding their own affairs at a neighborhood business is regrettable, and may well be illegal harassment. But when Defendants’ behavior turns from indiscriminate rantings to target threats against an individual (as it did with Mr. Camp— learning his name, where he lives, parking by his house, telling him they came for him, that he is going to die (maybe ‘today’) and pointing and waving a Bible within inches of his face in a threatening manner, while spit flew in his face — such behavior crosses the line between protected speech and criminal assault. Such conduct —an ongoing campaign of threats targeting a specific person—is not speech protected by the First Amendment, it is an assault upon Mr. Camp, which is part of a broader pattern of domestic terrorism inflicted upon the citizens and businesses of Fondren.”
Nathan Glenn, owner of Rooster’s and Basil’s restaurants in Fondren Corner, applauded Reynolds for recognizing the actions of Siders and Peden as a danger to the public.
“I feel like there’s a little bit of justice for us business owners in Fondren who have taken this abuse,” he said, noting that he believes some protesters hide behind their religious beliefs.
Glenn said protesters who stand outside on the Fondren strip from Fondren Corner to the Bean have damaged the family atmosphere that he and other business owners have worked to create.
“I think the judge’s decision sets a precedent,” he said. “The court recognizes that what we’ve been complaining about for 20 years is social terrorism aggressive toward our community. It’s not protesting.”
Siders and Peden were permanently ordered to have no contact with Camp and Kipfmiller through in-person contact, phone, email, text message, social media or in any other form. They were ordered to stay at least 50 yards away from Camp and Kipfmiller and to stay at least 25 yards from where they live.
Siders and Peden were not barred from legally protesting in the public areas directly adjacent to the JWHO.
Attorneys Joel Dillard and Cody Gibson plan to appeal both cases to the County Court of Hinds County.