Pastor serving time in jail for backyard church

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- For the past six years, Michael Salman and his family and friends have diligently documented every chapter of their fight against the City of Phoenix over a building in the Salman's backyard.

In a YouTube video shot July 9th, 2012, Salman is surround by his daughters inside the building, saying goodbye before turning himself into jail.

He was sentenced to 60 days in jail after a judge found that he was holding church services in the building, without the proper permits, and in a space with dozens of code violations. Later that day, he reported to the Sheriff's department to start his stint.

"Being in Tent City's not a good place to be, especially if the charge against you is some kind of zoning violation," said John Whitehead, Salman's attorney.

On Tuesday, Whitehead filed a writ of Habeas Corpus, asking Arizona's Supreme Court to step in. He calls Salman's time in Maricopa County's Tent City cruel and unusual punishment.

"It says if someone is being held in a facility they should not be, they should be brought before a judge and the state has to convince the judge why that person's in jail," said Whitehead.

If a judge sides with them, It could spring Salman out early, but the court's decision still stands, that Salman knowingly held church services in a building with the wrong permit.

Still, it's not a fight Salman or his team are ready to finish. Salman's attorney says he's also fighting the constitutionality of the City's case in the Ninth Circut Court of Appeals.

The City of Phoenix declined to comment, but did release this statement:

Below are pertinent dates and events. It is important to note that the complaints about Mr. Salman's property originated from neighborhood concerns.
Mr. Salman's interaction regarding his property dates back to 2006, when he was advised by the Zoning Administrator that his property was analogous to a church and required compliance with the Zoning Ordinance.

During 2007, Mr Salman had interaction with the City regarding his attempts to build on his property. The issue revolves around Mr. Salman's assertion that he is building a detached garage, when the building is actually to function as a church.  Mr. Salman builds, despite not having a proper permit. On May 1, 2007, he is cited for, and eventually pleads responsible to, building without the required permit. (Pleads responsible 7/18/2007)

In the Fall of 2007, Mr. Salman is notified several times by the City that he needs to obtain the proper permits and approvals before holding church services on his property.

In 2008, Mr. Salman's church, Harvest Christian Fellowship Community Church, is issued a Building Permit to convert the existing garage into a game room.  The permit states, "Any other occupancy or use (business, commercial, assembly, church, etc.) is expressly prohibited pursuant to the City of Phoenix Building Code and Zoning Ordinances."

During 2009-2010 church services are held on Mr. Salman's property without proper permits and in violation of safety concerns. As a result, Mr. Salman is cited.

On January 4, 2010, Harvest Christian Fellowship Community Church is found responsible for 96 civil code violations.  The Court notes, "[T]he State is not saying the Salmans can't run a church or have worship services at the location, but the State is saying that if they do so, they must do it properly and in accord with the building, fire, and zoning codes."

On August 30, 2010, Mr. Salman was found guilty of 67 Class 1 Misdemeanors.  The Court stated, "Everyone is entitled under the United States Constitution to worship as they please. But there is a reason for these codes and that is for public safety. And that, I believe, is all that the State is asking is that the Code violations be rectified."

Mr. Salman appealed his convictions.  On June 2, 2011, the Maricopa County Superior Court upheld the convictions and stated, " "[T]he Defendant was engaged in public or church activities, and further that Defendant's convictions did not violate his Constitutional right to religious freedom."

The Court sentenced Mr. Salman to serve jail time.  He was ordered to report to jail on June 18, 2012.  The county jail relies on a Department of Public Safety table of criminal codes to confirm the basis for the incarceration when a person self surrenders. The table did not include the particular charge on Mr. Salman's confinement order. Mr. Salman was, therefore, not incarcerated. The table has been corrected.

On June 28, 2012, a Probation Revocation Arraignment was held alleging violations of Mr. Salman's sentence by twice having a gathering in excess of 12 people on his premises while not in compliance with all ordinances and failing to cooperate with the Court's Financial Screening.


 YouTube: Salman's Last Moments Before Jail: