2 Church of Wells members found guilty of trespassing at Nacogdoches restaurant

2 Church of Wells members found guilty of trespassing at Nacogdoches restaurant
James MacPherson (Source: Nacogdoches County Jail)
James MacPherson (Source: Nacogdoches County Jail)
Troy Dannenberger (Source: Nacogdoches County Jail)
Troy Dannenberger (Source: Nacogdoches County Jail)

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Two members of the controversial Church of Wells were found guilty of criminal trespass in a Nacogdoches County court-at-law on Thursday because they came back to a McDonalds after a police officer gave them warnings not to return back in April.

The sentencing has been reset.

The two Church of Wells members represented themselves when they made an appearance in a Nacogdoches County court-at-law Thursday in reference to allegations that they violated a criminal trespass order to speak to customers at a McDonald's restaurant a second time.

During the hearing County Attorney Paige Pattillo argued that Church of Wells members Troy Dannenberger and James MacPherson entered McDonalds on April 24 after they were told by police not to go inside the restaurant again.

Both men claimed they aren't guilty of criminal trespass.

Pattillo said at about 2:30 a.m. on April 12, the two men were speaking under their breath and glaring at customers. She said they spoke Bible verses to the responding officers, refused to listen, and would not identify themselves. The county attorney also said the Nacogdoches PD officers had to ask them to leave several times.

"A few weeks later, they returned," Pattillo said. "The manager asked them to leave, but they didn't. They did leave after a 911 call, and the officer found them down the street, where they admitted to being there."

Dannenberger said they were waiting in line as paying customers the first time they were asked by police to leave McDonalds. He said the officers came up to them in "a rage."

"They took some of us out, and I was inside, and I continued to share Bible verses," Dannenberger said. "The people listened."

Dannenberger said when he was asked to go outside, he did so. He said when the NPD officer asked for his ID, he asked why and was told it was because they were asked to leave the restaurant.

"I don't think I trespassed," Dannenberger said.

In reference to the second time he and MacPherson were at McDonald's, Dannenberger said they had been handing out tracts when they went to the restaurant with a homeless man they had been talking to.

"The man told us to stay and wanted to hear what we had to say, and then he asked us to leave," Dannenberger said. "We left, and we were stopped down the road and told they might have a warrant."

MacPherson echoed Dannenberger's version of the story.

He said they went to McDonalds the second time to preach to a man named Jeffery.

"I don't know if I was ever warned to not come back," McPherson said.

MacPherson said while they were there the second time, the manager came over to them and said, "You stink" and said they smelled bad.

"That's when he told us to leave and started filming us as we left," MacPherson said. "Then we were stopped by police, and they said they had a warrant. Three days later, we were served."

Pattillo called Officer William Ball of the Nacogdoches Police Department to the stand first. Ball said he was the NPD officer that responded to McDonalds the first time.

Ball testified that there was a large crowd when he got there, and it didn't look friendly. It appeared hostile. He said the Church of Wells members were telling people that they needed to repent, or they would go to hell.

"I asked them to step outside with me, so I could figure out what was going on," Ball said. "We were by the main entrance, and I asked them what was going on. They said telling people about God. I asked them if it got out of hand, and they said no."

Ball said he asked the two men for their IDs, and they hesitated because they felt like they weren't being lawfully detained."

The Nacogdoches Police officer said it was hard to talk to the two men at first because they didn't think they had done anything wrong.

During his testimony, Ball also said that he could have arrested Dannenberger and MacPherson for disorderly conduct and failure to give ID. Instead, he just gave them a criminal trespass warning.

"Any reasonable person would have known they could not come back after what I said," Ball explained.

Ball said he made it perfectly clear that the warning was for the restaurant and its parking lot and that they would be arrested if they came back.

Next, Pattillo called McDonalds manager Rodney Watts to the stand. He said he first saw the two men while he was taking orders from behind the counter.

"It was packed," Watts said.

Watts said MacPherson was behind a group of other customers that were saying that he was crazy.

"I said, 'Stop doing that. There is no time for that,'" Watts said.

Although Watts said he didn't know what had been said, he said it's not uncommon to see occasional disturbances from the "overnight crowd."

Watts testified that when he asked one customer what had been said, he said MacPherson told him he was going to hell.

At that point, Watts went out into the dining area and forcefully told the Church of Wells members to leave. He added MacPherson looked over at him and started mumbling.

Watts said that, at first, he didn't know that MacPherson and Dannenberger were together, so he apologized for what had happened.

The security guard at the restaurant asked for the men's IDs, but they said no because they didn't think they had done anything wrong.

"As I saw they were not working with the officers, I asked for criminal trespass," Watts said. "I tried to let the police work with these guys, but they asked at least 10 times for ID."

Watts said he has only asked for criminal trespass warnings about four times during his time as a manager at the McDonalds. He said on many occasions, he changes his mind about the warnings, but he didn't this time because Dannenberger and MacPherson refused to cooperate.

Then on April 24, Watts went to take an order and noticed a young man sitting alone. When he looked in that direction again, there were four men at the table. Although he didn't know two of them, he recognized two of them as the men who had been told not to come back.

Watts said he rudely asked them, "What's so important? Why do you keep coming here?"

After he asked them to leave the restaurant, he noticed that they asked the man sitting with them to go with them, Watts said.

The McDonalds manager said he decided to call the police after the men kept refusing to talk to him. Watts added he told them to leave four or five times.

Pattillo then played a recording of Watts' 911 call. In the call, Watts told the dispatchers the men weren't violent, but he did want them to leave. He also identified them as Church of Wells members and said they were being "hard-headed."

Watts was standing next to the men when he made the 911 call and that they left shortly after that.

During his testimony, Watts said he never recorded them with his phone, but he did follow them, saying, 'How does it feel to not be left alone?"

Watts said he wanted to pursue charges against Dannenberger and MacPherson because they were so defiant with police.

After Pattillo finished questioning Watts, Dannenberger thanked Watts for being truthful in his responses.

Later, Watts told Judge Jack Sinz that it wasn't about their use of Bible verses. It was about how they made people feel uneasy and because they refused to work with police.

"I told them I like God, and I go to church, and they told me that whatever I know about God is wrong, and that I need to get saved," Watts said.

Watts said the outcome would have been the same if the men had been offending people for another reason and that it had nothing to do with religion.

In her closing arguments, Pattillo said that Dannenberger and MacPherson lost their right to be at the McDonalds after they bothered customers and were asked to leave.

Dannenberger said the matter was a violation of his constitutional rights and that he wasn't clear about the trespass warning. He added they were there the second time because they were waiting on the homeless man that had asked them to go with him.

"Before God, I do not believe I have done anything wrong," Dannenberger said. "I love all these people, and I pray to God I will see all of them in heaven."

MacPherson said they weren't there to cause a disruption; they were there to preach forgiveness.

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