Tony Spell, Facing COVID Charges, Cited for Shooting Alligator Behind Church

Louisiana Pastor Tony Spell has been cited by police for killing a 6-foot alligator, as he prepares to stand trial for repeatedly flouting the state's COVID-19 restrictions.

Spell, the head of the Life Tabernacle Church in Central City, Louisiana, was cited on Friday for alligator hunting violations after he uploaded a photo to Instagram of himself holding a dead gator he had allegedly fatally shot behind his church.

He also shared a video to Instagram showing him holding the lifeless animal by the tail, where he said: "We killed this about 6-and-a-half-foot gator in the lake a few minutes ago, so we're officially ready for baptisms tomorrow morning. We'll see you here at the lake."

In a statement on its website on June 11, Louisiana Wild Life and Fisheries said that it was informed of the social media posts and immediately dispatched officers to the scene, where they found Spell in possession of a dead 6-foot alligator.

The agency confirmed that it seized the animal's body from Spell and said that the pastor was cited for "harvesting an alligator during a closed season." Alligator hunting season in the area, which is opened to control the population of the animals, does not begin until September 1, 2021.

Killing an alligator in Louisiana outside of the permitted hunting season can be punished with a $400 to $950 fine and up to 120 days in prison while taking an alligator without a license carries up to 90 days in jail and a fine of $250 to $500.

The agency confirmed that Spell also faces "civil restitution totaling $375.80 for the replacement value of the illegally taken alligator."

Speaking to The Advocate following the citation on Friday, Spell's lawyer Jeff Wittenbrink claimed that the alligator was approaching the pastor's wife when he fatally shot it on June 5.

He also claimed that Spell was unaware of the rules around killing alligators, but said: "I think he's going to have to accept responsibility for this even though there were some exigent circumstances, and I think he's aware that it probably wasn't the right thing to do."

However, Spell told The Advocate during a phone call on Friday that "I'm not guilty," and added: "The gator was a threat to the welfare of the children in my Sunday school, and we would do it again to protect innocent children and women."

The citation is the latest in a string of legal troubles for Spell, who is preparing to stand trial later this month, facing six counts of violating Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards' COVID-19 restrictions by continuing to hold in-person church services in summer 2020.

Spell reportedly violated the state's limits on in-person gatherings on multiple occasions, allegedly holding services of more than 1,200 people while the limit was set at just 10 and later increased to 50.

The East Baton Rouge District Attorney's Office is said to have offered Spell a plea deal in March that would have seen five of the charges dropped if he pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge, but he is expected to reject the offer.

Spell was also arrested in August 2020 for aggravated assault when he was alleged to have nearly struck a protester outside of the church with a bus.

Newsweek has contacted Spell and Louisiana Wild Life and Fisheries for comment.

Tony Spell cited for killing alligator
Alligator photographed in a river. Louisiana Pastor Tony Spell has been cited by police for killing an alligator, as he prepares to stand trial for repeatedly flouting the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. joe32780/iStock / Getty Images Plus