Texas pastor protesting traffic stop arrested

July 1, 2009 at 2:01 a.m.

WEBSTER, Texas (AP) — Webster police used a Taser on a pastor and pepper spray to disperse members of his congregation Wednesday after they said the pastor tried to interfere with a traffic stop of a member of his church.

Jose Elias Moran, 42, was charged with interfering in the duties of a police officer during a traffic stop on the Iglesia Profetica Peniel parking lot southeast of Houston.

"This did not have to happen. It didn't have to go this far," Debbie Moran, the pastor's 15-year-old daughter, said.

An incident report on the department's Web site said Officer Raymond Berryman tried to calm Moran and arrest him. But police say he pushed the officer, went inside the church and returned with 40 other congregants.

Moran and his family disputed the police account.

Speaking from his hospital bed Wednesday night, Moran told The Associated Press that when he was told a member of the church had been stopped, he went outside to ask what was going on. He said he was told to go back inside and said the officer grabbed his shirt when he said "I'm the pastor." Moran said he went back inside to get witnesses and the officer chased him and began to kick the door.

Moran said that when they came back outside the officer started spraying pepper spray as soon as the door was opened. A second officer shocked him twice with a Taser, he said.

"Why don't they go to the clubs and the bars where bad things are happening? Why do they need to come to a church?" Moran asked in Spanish.

Witnesses said Moran didn't lay a hand on the officer.

Congregants say they were in the church for an early morning prayer when the incident unfolded.

The police said the pastor did not have a certificate of occupancy for the building. The pastor said he had applied for the certificate in April.

Moran said he planned to hire an attorney to press charges against the officer.

Moran's son Miguel said 30 witnesses saw the police officer turn aggressive and repeatedly kick the door of the church.

"They treated him as if he were a drug dealer or murderer, but he is a pastor that tries to help the community," Moran said in Spanish. "The police always want to be right but they are not."

Moran's wife, Maria, said she tried to help her husband after he was hit with the Taser but police threatened to arrest her.

"My husband has a heart condition and with electrocution who knows what could've happened," Maria Moran said.

The family saw Moran at Clear Lake Regional Medical Center for the first time late Wednesday night. He was to be kept overnight for additional tests.

A call to police for comment was not immediately returned Wednesday night.

"A pastor has to tend to his flock," Maria Moran said. "That is all he was doing."

The family posted bail for Moran Wednesday night.

Police said the driver of the car was cited for driving without a license.



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