September 11, 2016
Michael Grant, the white-robed man known locally as Philly Jesus, will head to trial this week in Philadelphia Municipal Court after his May arrest at the Apple Store in Center City.
Grant was arrested at the Walnut Street location on May 2 following a sequence whose details remain fuzzy in the eyes of the public. Initial reports suggested that Grant, a regular Apple Store visitor who used the publicly available technology displays to access his email, refused to depart the premises when employees asked him to leave.
Another theory suggested that Grant's staff was considered an obstruction to the movement of other customers inside the store.
Whatever happened that afternoon, Grant was led out of the store by police, handcuffed and driven away in a van. He was subsequently charged with one count of defiant trespass (a third-degree misdemeanor) and one count of disorderly conduct.
Grant's attorney, Brian Zeiger, maintains that Philly Jesus did nothing wrong and that accepting the Accelerated Misdemeanor Program (AMP) deal that was offered to him would have been tantamount to a guilty plea, potentially leaving him with a permanent record.
"I think it's important for people to know that he didn't do anything wrong," Zeiger told PhillyVoice. "I think he got picked on at the Apple Store, maybe because of who he is. I also don't think that the police did anything wrong. They were doing their job."
At issue in the trial is the absence of a security video from the Apple Store, which Zeiger said he attempted to subpoena on behalf of his client. For reasons that remain unclear, that video has not surfaced.
"The Apple Store claims there's no video," Zeiger said. "It isn't as if we think the DA is suppressing evidence. Apple has told the DA that there is no tape. It's hard for me to believe that there isn't one, but that's the story."
Grant himself, who wrote in a lengthy Facebook post that he believes his arrest is an example of the persecution of Christians, suggested last week to PhillyMag that there is, in fact, video of the incident. Zeiger later clarified that there is no video, at least not at this time, and that the case will obviously be impacted by its absence from the trial.
"Michael is a very nice man," Zeiger said. "In his mind, he believes the Apple Store has video, because anyone would assume that Apple does. We filed a subpoena because we and the DA wanted to see if the cross was legitimately blocking access in the store."
Without it, Zeiger suggested, the case becomes more a matter of establishing whether Grant was within his rights in that situation.
"There should be some kind of adverse inference, because the rules aren't the same for both sides," Zeiger said. "It's like halfcourt basketball because the burden of proof is on the DA. If it's so bad that this cane is blocking the path, then where's the video of it?"
Grant was previously arrested for disorderly conduct at LOVE Park in November 2014, at which time he insisted on Twitter that he is not a solicitor.
People come up to me and ask me to take pics with them and for them..I tell them i Dnt charge but tips are welcome.. cop said u r solicitin— phillyjesus (@phillyjesus) November 14, 2014
Charges in that incident were eventually dropped and Grant, who has been criticized for some of his views on social media, returned to his role as the city's quasi-official Jesus impersonator, attempting to launch a $70 million global ministry on GoFundMe and moving on from a prior (we sincerely hope) heroin addiction. Since his arrest in May, he's appeared prominently in a commercial for local cheesesteak shop Steak 'Em Up.