Casting-out-demons lawsuit responses filed

Pastor, parishioners: Byrd attacked us
Mar. 27, 2013 @ 11:40 PM

The local pastor and parishioners accused of assault in an casting-out-of-demons gone awry have filed responses to a civil suit stemming from the incident. They say their accuser attacked them with a knife. They also argue that they’re protected from the lawsuit because, essentially, the incident was church business.

Pastor Thomas Arwood of Family Chapel Church of God, his wife Theresa, and church member Charles Shield are represented by Maryville attorneys Mathew and Bart Williams. In court documents filed this month, they claim that Andrew Byrd attacked them with a knife last year at a meeting in the church. They also claim the are protected by the doctrine of ecclesiastical abstention, which holds that courts should not inquire into religious doctrines or beliefs because they are protected under the First Amendment.

They admit the meeting took place on Feb. 21, 2012, but say it was Byrd and not the Arwoods who requested it.

“Defendant avers that the defendant acted in self-defense of the assault and battery committed by the plaintiff against the defendant,” the attorneys wrote in the counterclaim on behalf of Joel Arwood. “Specifically, plaintiff threatened to harm defendant with verbal threats that included the threat to inflict serious physical harm to the defendant with the use of plaintiff’s knife. Also, plaintiff attempted to harm defendant by attempting to punch and kick the defendant.”

In a complaint filed last month, Byrd claimed that when he showed up at the church that day, the group told him they had to cast out a demon from him, and that they then tried to physically restrain him. He said they knocked one of his teeth loose in the struggle.

Later, he said, Joel Arwood boasted to the congregation that he “had punched the devil and knocked the devil’s tooth out.”

Byrd swore out warrants last month against Shields and the Arwoods, charging them with assault and false imprisonment.

The newly filed documents don’t indicate that criminal charges have not been filed against Byrd over the incident.

The church is affiliated with the Church of God, based in Cleveland, Tenn.

Attorneys representing both sides were contacted Tuesday by the Mountain Press but did not return calls.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com