Michael Salman, who's been squabbling with Phoenix for years over his home-worship services, says he was sent home Saturday night after he showed up at jail to begin his 60-day sentence.
Salman's been fighting the sentence since his September 2010 conviction for violating building codes at his 1.5-acre property near 31st and Northern Avenues. His struggle to be allowed to have 40 or so people at his home each week for worship services has been going on since 2007, as New Times has chronicled. The home has even been raided by police -- twice. City inspectors say a structure on the property where the gatherings take place isn't safe.
After a lengthy battle in federal court, last week a judge denied his motion to block the sentence and tossed his civil lawsuit. Theoretically, that meant he should have to serve the sentence.
But it seems as though city officials lost their nerve after Salman self-surrendered and was booked in at the Maricopa County jail. Inexplicably, jail officials sent him home, Salman says.
"God granted me an injunction," Salman says today, without a trace of irony.
At this point, he says he's waiting for a phone call from the Phoenix City Court, which is expected to give him another self-surrender date. He's scheduled to be back in city court on June 28, at which point he could be ordered to jail.
However, in the meantime, he and his attorney plan to file another motion with the U.S. Ninth Circuit of Appeals in an attempt to stall or quash the sentence.
We left a message with the city and hope to find out if Phoenix officials are just bluffing, or whether they really intend to jail the pastor. No doubt, officials aren't looking forward to the negative headlines that jailing Salman would generate. But with pressure from Salman's neighbors and code-compliance officers, the pastor may soon be preaching to inmates instead of his usual flock.
Salman says his kids were "crying their faces off" before he drove to the jail, and he even prepared a YouTube video in which he rails against the city and defends what he believes is his right to have weekly worship services at his home.
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Now he's back in the holding pattern.
Salman is also the owner of Mighty Mike's Burgers in Phoenix, and he and his wife, Suzanne, run a credit-card processing company, as well. All that's in addition to his volunteer work as a minister for the weekly home services and the Harvest Christian Fellowship.