The Pensacola News Journal reports…
“A video shot from inside Pensacola’s Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church showing a Pensacola police officer executing a custody court order went viral Sunday, getting more than 1,900 shares and more than 80,000 views on Facebook and garnering dozens of comments ridiculing the officer for her actions.
But Pensacola Police Chief David Alexander III believes Officer Meghan Darling acted within her duties while inside the church.
“Officer Darling went over to the church with the father of the child, hoping to mediate a peaceful exchange for the child, who was with her grandparents,” Alexander said.
The 13-year-old girl was with the Rev. Freddie Tellis and his wife inside the church on Guillemard Street, where Tellis was conducting a Sunday service.
After initial attempts to enact the custody court order with deputies from the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office at the grandparents’ home outside the Pensacola city limits, the father came to Pensacola Police Department headquarters to discuss the grandparents’ failure to return the child, according to a police department press release.
“The officer was questioned several times by members of the church — and continued to wait for the pastor,” Alexander said.
Darling then made an attempt to contact the child’s grandfather, Tellis, inside the church, as depicted in the Facebook video. And that’s what has Tellis — and some supporters in his church and on social media — angry.
“I respect that they have a job to do, but the way they went about it was wrong,” Tellis said. “The police had no authority to violate the sanctity of a worship service.”
However, according to Alexander, any church that is incorporated in the state of Florida is incorporated as a public place.
“We certainly respect the fact that it’s a church, but we also respect the fact that lots of times we have to respond to churches because there are problems,” Alexander said. “(The father) asked for help today and we were trying to resolve this thing in the most peaceful way possible.
“The pastor was aware of the court order and at some point had communicated that if the officers came for the child, he would surrender the child. However, that did not take place, and this turned out to be a long, drawn-out issue between him and his son-in-law.”
The daughter was placed in the custody of her father and left the church with him after the service.
Tellis felt that officer Darling was overzealous in her attempt to bring the child out of the church, and would have elicited a much calmer reaction had she simply waited until the end of the services to return the girl to her father.
“I respect the law, but you have to respect people’s religious freedom — I think it could have been handled differently,” Tellis said.”