July 12, 2012
The Michael Salman court case is about building safety. Building and safety codes are in-place to protect the safety and welfare of all of our residents. Some of the relevant facts in this case include:
- A house of worship is allowed in any zoning district in the City of Phoenix
- The case is about the building that is used for regular assembly does not meet construction and fire code requirements for assembly
- All houses of worship in the City of Phoenix must conform to the same codes
Mr. Salman had regular gatherings of up to 80 people. He held services twice a week and collected a tithe at the services. The building that he held services in had a dais and chairs were aligned in a pew formation. He held himself out as a being a church through the media (Harvest Christian Church) and claimed a church status for tax exemption purposes on his property.
Due to the regular, reoccurring high vehicular traffic in this quiet residential neighborhood, neighbors repeatedly complained about the public assembly occurring on his property. Because of the multiple, reoccurring complaints, the City investigated the activity and discovered numerous building code violations primarily related to fire safety standards. Once apprised of these violations, the City could be held liable for not enforcing safety code requirements in the event anyone was injured on the premises. Prior to commencement of prosecution, Mr. Salman was asked, repeatedly, to comply with the safety codes of the City. He chose to ignore these requests for voluntary compliance prior to the commencement of any proceedings.
Below is a summary of the case from the City's Law Department, including quotes from the relevant court judgments.
Mr. Salman's interaction regarding his property dates back to 2006, when he was advised by the Zoning Administrator that his property was analogous to a church and required compliance with the Zoning Ordinance.
During 2007, Mr. Salman had interaction with the City regarding his attempts to build on his property. The issue revolves around Mr. Salman's assertion that he is building a detached garage, when the building is actually to function as a church. Mr. Salman builds, despite not having a proper permit. On May 1, 2007, he is cited for, and eventually pleads responsible to building without the required permit. (Pleads responsible 7/18/2007)
In the Fall of 2007, Mr. Salman is notified several times by the City that he needs to obtain the proper permits and approvals before holding church services on his property.
In 2008, Mr. Salman's church, Harvest Christian Fellowship Community Church, is issued a Building Permit to construct a 2,000 square foot private game room accessory to an existing single family residence. The permit states, "Any other occupancy or use (business, commercial, assembly, church, etc.) is expressly prohibited pursuant to the City of Phoenix Building Code and Zoning Ordinances."
During 2009-2010 church services are held on Mr. Salman's property without proper permits and in violation of safety concerns. As a result, Mr. Salman is cited.
On January 4, 2010, Harvest Christian Fellowship Community Church is found responsible for 96 civil code violations. The Court notes, "[T]he State is not saying the Salmans can't run a church or have worship services at the location, but the State is saying that if they do so, they must do it properly and in accord with the building, fire, and zoning codes."
On August 30, 2010, Mr. Salman was found guilty of 67 Class 1 Misdemeanors. The Court stated, "Everyone is entitled under the United States Constitution to worship as they please. But there is a reason for these codes and that is for public safety. And that, I believe, is all that the State is asking is that the Code violations be rectified."
Mr. Salman appealed his convictions. On June 2, 2011, the Maricopa County Superior Court upheld the convictions and stated, "[T]he Defendant was engaged in public or church activities, and further that Defendant's convictions did not violate his Constitutional right to religious freedom."
The Court sentenced Mr. Salman to serve jail time. He was ordered to report to jail on June 18, 2012. The county jail relies on a Department of Public Safety table of criminal codes to confirm the basis for the incarceration when a person self surrenders. The table did not include the particular charge on Mr. Salman's confinement order. Mr. Salman was, therefore, not incarcerated. The table has been corrected.
On June 28, 2012, a Probation Revocation Arraignment was held alleging violations of Mr. Salman's sentence by twice having a gathering in excess of 12 people on his premises while not in compliance with all ordinances and failing to cooperate with the Court's Financial Screening.