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Judge Chuck Vanover allegedly ordered his bailiff to grab a local reverend by the throat and slam him into a chair during a court proceeding last year. Courtesy Tarrant County

He wanted to explain himself.

Before Brendon Jones appeared in Tarrant County Criminal Court No. 10 in October 2021, the young husband and stepfather was ready to prove the accusations against him were patently false.

Little did he know Phil Sorrells was hearing the case. Sorrells, who had served on the bench for 30 years and was preparing his successful campaign for district attorney of the third-largest county in Texas, had connections to powerful local law firms and local law enforcement. Jones was unaware of Sorrells’ reputation. He just believed all judges were impartial and fair.

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In the months prior, he had sought to allay alleged concerns by his wife’s ex-husband about child visitations between the ex and his biological daughter. After lawyering up, the ex accused Jones of child abuse. Jones said CPS (Child Protective Services) and North Richland Hills police “constantly” visited his house, which allegedly terrified his wife and stepdaughter.

The allegations brought Jones to Criminal Court No. 10, and on that October morning, he refused answer to Sorrells’ request to plead guilty or not guilty. Pleading not guilty, Jones told me, presumes a crime took place.

“The only reason I am here is because if I do not come, you guys will kidnap me again,” Jones recalled telling Sorrells, referring to arrest warrants judges issue for non-appearance.

Jones went on to tell Sorrells that any court documents with Brendon Jones’ name on them were invalid since Jones believes courts exist solely to profiteer off defendants.

“If Brendon Jones is not here,” Jones recalls Sorrells saying, “I will issue a warrant for his arrest.”

To thwart an alleged false warrant for non-appearance, Jones and a handful of supporters immediately left No. 10 and went to the county clerk’s office on the second floor of the same building, where they made a written statement attesting to Jones’ appearance and had it certified. A copy of the certified document, signed by Jones and a witness, states he was present in Criminal Court No. 10 at the required time.

“Filed 30 minutes prior to the [court roll call], thus making it fraud on the court,” reads a note from Jones on the letter that was certified at 9:53 a.m. that same October morning.

The court roll call filed by Sorrells, which was timestamped 10:30 a.m. that same day, states that Jones’ name was called three times by a bailiff and Jones did answer or appear.

Jones said the bench warrant, which appears to be signed with a rubber stamp, has impeded his ability to reconnect with his wife and daughter.

Also at court that day was Rev. John Kennedy, who had traveled from Arizona after months of conversing with Jones online. Following his divorce over a decade ago, Kennedy said he had a crisis of faith for several years before deciding to take his ministry on the road and help those in need.

Days after Sorrells issued the bench warrant, two Tarrant County sheriff’s deputies arrived at Jones’ home to execute the warrant. Based on the livestreamed video on Facebook, Kennedy tells the deputies that they do not have a lawful warrant and they drive off.

The following day, based on another livestream video, several sheriff’s deputies pull over a car used by Jones, something Kennedy sees as evidence that they were staking out Jones’ home. A female friend is driving the car. As Kennedy approaches the officers, he begins arguing with them, alleging that they are harassing his friend.

The deputies arrest Kennedy for allegedly interfering with public duties. During his arraignment at Tarrant County Criminal Court No. 8, Kennedy alleges Judge Chuck Vanover threatened him with 90 days in prison for contempt after Kennedy argued that Vanover had no authority to detain him. Kennedy said he rebutted Vanover’s points, which led to Vanover allegedly losing his temper.

Due to the judge’s alleged belligerent demeanor, Kennedy filed a motion to dismiss the case and requested Vanover recuse himself from the matter. During a December 2021 hearing and after Kennedy told Vanover that he does not take orders from public servants, a courtroom bailiff, Kennedy alleges, grabbed him by the throat, lifted him into the air, and slammed him in a chair.

“This is assault,” Kennedy said he told Vanover. “It occurred, and you are smiling.”

Based on court records, Vanover then set a trial where he and not a jury would make a ruling 10 days into Kennedy’s 20-day sentence for contempt of court, meaning the reverend had no means to prepare his defense.

Tarrant County Jail, Kennedy said, reeked of feces and urine that overflowed from toilets into holding cells.

“Rooms meant to hold 10 to 12 were packed with 40 people,” Kennedy said. “People were not given magistration notice for several days” and against state laws that mandate such steps within 48 hours of detention.

Kennedy said he used the time to teach detainees about the 48-hour law governing magistration, constitutional rights to due process, and the merits of pleading innocent as opposed to not guilty. Due to his grassroots organizing, Kennedy alleges he was singled out and placed in solitary confinement at the Lon Evans Corrections Center, just west of Tarrant County Jail. While in isolation, Kennedy began experiencing severe chest pains that he alleges medical staff ignored.

Based on court records, Vanover recused himself from the January trial, and Administrative Judge David Evans assigned visiting retired judge Daryl Coffey to preside over the mid-January bench trial.

For several years, Evans, based on our extensive reporting, had assigned Coffey to misdemeanor and felony cases under the false title of senior judge. Of the 100 criminal cases Coffey presided over without legal authority and without filing requisite oaths of office, Kennedy’s was the only case when Evans used Coffey’s actual title, that of retired county judge. Kennedy believes Evans likely acted out of fear, since Kennedy had made confronting corrupt judges the focus of his ministry.

Kennedy alleges he was not given the opportunity to request evidence for his bench trial. During the one-day trial in mid-January 2022, Kennedy said he was not allowed to question or see his accuser. Around 30 sheriff’s deputies were present, Kennedy alleges. Coffey, who is no longer assigned to criminal cases in Tarrant County due to our reporting, placed Kennedy on probation.

The reverend has filed several complaints with the county sheriff’s department and State Commission on Judicial Conduct against Vanover and the sheriff’s deputies involved in his arrest.

In his Petition to Vacate Void Orders, filed with the county on Feb. 7, 2022, Kennedy argues he was denied due process during his January trial because he was threatened with being “imprisoned indefinitely” if he continued to argue his innocence and was also denied the ability to call witnesses.

Jones said his stepdaughter recently turned 9, and he hasn’t heard from her or her mother in nearly two years.

“I am still fighting this battle,” Jones said, referring to his outstanding bench warrant issued by DA-elect Sorrells.

Jones believes the district attorney’s office cannot ethically or lawfully prosecute his case due to Sorrells’ misconduct. Jones recently saw court records that showed his wife’s entanglement in the family court system had not led to her arrest, something of a small solace for the husband who promised to keep her safe.

Sorrells and Vanover did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

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