Popular youth ministry founder free of criminal charges

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — The founder of a popular youth ministry is free and clear of criminal charges.

Matt Pitt was acquitted Thursday morning. It took about two hours for a Jefferson County Jury to reach the not guilty verdict.

Now in the clear, Matt Pitt said he has no hard feelings towards law enforcement, and is just looking forward to moving on. Jurors weren’t convinced that Pitt was impersonating an officer in the June 2013 incident during an encounter in Jefferson County.

One of the first questions that Matt Pitt addressed after walking out of court  was whether or not he would ever use or have an honorary badge again.

“I don’t think that that will, that will ever happen again. But again I have nothing to say about the law enforcement. We, I’m here to reach kids and I know that they do that too. And so there’s nothing for that they risk their lives every day they do their job and so again I’m just so grateful right now to be free I can’t explain it. I don’t know how to put it into words, I’m an innocent man. It has been proven. And I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. It still hasn’t even hit me yet,” said Pitt.

One of Matt Pitt’s Defense attorneys, Nikki Bonner, said that testimony from one of the two neighbors who encountered Pitt and his cousin in the woods that night, led to the charges, but testimony from the two other people was the strongest piece of evidence of Pitt’s innocence.

“We think that the key was that it was four people out there that night, and three of them were saying exactly the same thing. One of them was only saying something slightly different,” said Bonner.

Matt Pitt pleaded guilty to impersonating a peace officer in a different case in Shelby County from 2012.  Prosecutors played tape evidence from the 2012 traffic stop in Calera during the Jefferson County trial.
Deputy Jefferson County District Attorney William McComb told WIAT he was expecting a guilty verdict, but adds that he respects the jury’s decision.

“It was a tough case…surprised with the verdict. I guess in these cases when you go to trial it can go either way. That’s why things go to trial. If it was cut and dry, it never would have gone to trial. One side or another would have decided to hang it up. So clearly it was a difficult case. I’m not sure if one piece of evidence was more important than the others. The videos from the Shelby County stop in Calera, it was our stance it clearly showed his intent as to what he intended to do the day of our incident,” said McComb.

The defense couldn’t disagree more.

“It was basically they were trying to prosecute him again for the same thing that happened in Shelby County and basically trying to use what happened Shelby County in this case. First of all, we don’t believe that he would’ve been found guilty in Shelby County if that case would have been brought to a jury trial like this was, but we did not have the opportunity to do that. He had a different, different counsel a different lawyer, but we would have never taken that plea deal on that case because that was also not impersonating a police officer. The attorney that he had hired didn’t show up. Some other attorney came in and subbed in for him and he was forced into a situation where he had take the plea,” said Bonner. “It’s almost unheard of when you’re arrested when you come up for your first appearance to take a plea.”

Bonner said testimony showed that Pitt and the head of security for The Basement were misinformed about the appropriate use of the honorary badges when they took an oath to receive them. Bonner also said that he would advise his client to get rid of the honorary badge.

“That badge has caused enough trouble. We’re definitely getting rid of it. I would tell anyone, if you do have one of those honorary badges just put them on your shelf in your house. Don’t even carry them with you at all,” said Bonner.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office issued the following statement about the verdict in the case.

“Let’s let him enjoy that he has been gifted a chance to get it right moving forward. That’s what we  would all like to see,” said Chief Deputy Randy Christian, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

Copyright 2015 WIAT 42 News

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