Ohio city drops criminal charges against church that opened 24/7 for homeless

A city in northwest Ohio has dropped criminal charges against a church pastor who sheltered unhoused persons overnight, less than three weeks after attorneys representing Dad’s Place church and its pastor, Christopher Avell, sued in federal court to toss the charges.

According to the Dad’s Place lawsuit, Bryan city officials filed 18 criminal charges against Mr. Avell on Dec. 8, prompting the federal court challenge.

Police accused Mr. Avell of “allow[ing] transients/homeless to reside within the [Property] for an extended amount of time,” despite the property’s zoning, which apparently allowed such practices. The church had opened round-the-clock to minister to homeless people.

Court papers show that Bryan municipal prosecutor Robert W. Bohmer filed the dismissal on Tuesday. The city said its filing was made “without prejudice,” meaning the case could be revived later.

The dispute heightened in November, when Mr. Avell kept the downtown space the church rents open around the clock, seven days a week. City officials objected and warned the church to stop or face legal penalties, according to First Liberty Institute, the public interest law firm that represented the church in court.

“Churches throughout history have been a shelter for anyone seeking a place of safety, and Dad’s Place is no exception,” said Philip Williamson of Taft Stettinus & Hollister LLP, one of two law firms assisting First Liberty. “Ohio and federal law alike protect vital ministries like Dad’s Place, and we look forward to defending those rights.”

Jeremy Dys, senior counsel at First Liberty, blamed Mayor Carrie Schlade, who he said “spearheaded months of harassment by Bryan, Ohio, city officials to repeatedly violate the constitutional and statutory rights of Dad’s Place Church and its pastor.”

Ms. Schlade responded to The Washington Times saying the city had no comment. First Liberty Institute did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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