Cole Montalvo, the UTC student who got arrested for confronting a female preacher on campus, gets up to speak to his attorney before appearing in Gary Starnes's general sessions court in this file photo.
A year after he was arrested for crossing a “free speech” perimeter at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to question a controversial street preacher, Cole Montalvo will get a trial on Nov. 10.
Now 25, Montalvo was a graduate biochemistry student when he was grappled into submission Nov. 13 by campus security officers and police while attempting to talk to preacher Angela Cummings. They cited Montalvo on charges of resisting arrest, inciting to riot, disorderly conduct and obstruction of justice.
His trial before Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern will be on a single charge of resisting arrest. The other three counts were dropped at a January hearing.
“The arrest was illegal to begin with, but that’s not a defense,” said Montalvo’s attorney, Franklin Chancey, of Cleveland, Tenn.
Under Tennessee law, you can’t resist when an officer arrests you, whether the arrest is legal or not, he said.
“The only defense,” Chancey said, “is that you are allowed to use force to repel an [officer’s] unreasonable amount of force.”
Four campus security personnel put Montalvo facedown on the ground and handcuffed him. He also was pepper-sprayed in the face, Chancey said, although the officer who used the pepper-spray testified it missed Montalvo’s face.
“There’s a video showing it — you will see that it hits him in the eyes,” Chancey said.
Assistant District Attorney Bill Hall, who prosecuted the case against Montalvo at the January hearing, couldn’t be reached for comment. The D.A.’s office typically doesn’t comment about pending criminal trials.
Video of Montalvo’s arrest went viral, and a version that Cummings has on her YouTube page had more than 55,000 views as of Thursday morning.
A number of students rallied behind Montalvo and against Cummings, a provocative preacher whom they accused of “hate speech.”
Her fire-and-brimstone sermons included such comments as, “Lesbo alert! Lesbians are on this campus.” She called students “you adulterers and adulteresses” on the day Montalvo was arrested.
Montalvo’s trial had been scheduled Thursday, but both sides agreed to the Nov. 10 nonjury trial before Stern.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.