published Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

1 charge remains against UTC student who questioned preacher

  • photo
    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 this morning.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Cole Montalvo walked out of court Monday morning with most of his legal problems behind him.

Three of four criminal charges -- inciting to riot, disorderly conduct and obstruction of justice -- against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga biochemistry student were dropped. On Nov. 13, 2013, Montalvo was wrestled to the ground by campus security officers and police after he crossed a "free speech" perimeter to question street preacher Angela Cummings.

Next, it'll be up to a grand jury to decide whether Montalvo should be indicted for resisting arrest.

That was the upshot of an hourlong preliminary hearing before Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Gary Starnes.

Starnes dismissed the inciting to riot and disorderly conduct charges after hearing testimony from campus police Sgt. Willie Trueitt and Lt. John Boe, and campus security personnel Howard Neely and James Cameron Yunker.

The judge read line-by-line through the criminal code for the offenses and found the evidence lacking. One component of disorderly conduct, for example, is creating a hazardous condition.

"I do not feel there was any hazardous condition," Starnes said. "There also, in this case, was not a properly defined perimeter. It apparently was just put up. There were no signs anywhere."

The orange cones marking the perimeter had just been placed there that morning, Trueitt testified in response to questioning by Montalvo's attorney, Franklin Chancey, of Cleveland, Tenn.

Montalvo was calm, didn't yell at or threaten the preacher. He had only just crossed over the perimeter and was 20 to 25 feet away from the preacher before he was arrested, the officers testified in response Chancey's questions.

  • photo
    UTC security guard Howard Neely, left, is questioned by defense attorney Franklin Chancey, middle right, while appearing before Judge Gary Starnes in a preliminary hearing for Cole Montalvo, far right, a UTC student who was accused of confronting a female preacher on campus, starting a riot and resisting arrest.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

"His intent was to be engaged in a civil debate," Chancey said of his client.

Chancey will try to persuade the grand jury to dismiss the remaining charge.

"If he didn't do anything wrong, then he shouldn't have been arrested," he said.

That shouldn't make a difference, according to Assistant District Attorney Bill Hall, who prosecuted the case.

"He has no right under the statute to even resist an unlawful arrest," Hall said during the hearing.

The incident was captured on video that's gotten thousands of view on the Internet -- though video wasn't shown at Monday's hearing.

"Show the video, and let a jury of 12 decide it," Hall said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

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.

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