By Emily Ralph
Matthew Meinecke pleaded not guilty in court on Feb. 6 after his arrest outside of Fort Myers High School while preaching.
“I looked at the statute about trespassing in a school zone and it wasn’t valid,” said Meinecke, referring to the arrest.
Meinecke, 33, is known by FSW students as the “S Building preacher.” He is part of Team Jesus Preachers, an organization of street preachers who travel around the world. Meinecke frequents FSW as well as Florida Gulf Coast University, clubs, bars, and gay pride events.
Meinecke was offered diversion, an agreement in which he would plead guilty and be given remedial punishment, but he declined.
“I won’t plead guilty. I can’t handle guilt,” said Meinecke.
Meinecke’s next court date, which will be his last chance to take a plea deal, is set for March 15 at 8:30 a.m. Attorney Thomas Powell Whitaker Jr. will represent the preacher at the docket hearing, a time to schedule the actual trial.
“If I were to plead guilty and the charges were dropped,” Meinecke said, “we would have the same problem again if I went back to that school.”
Meinecke was arrested in front of Fort Myers High School on the afternoon of Feb. 1.
At 1:30 p.m. that day, Meinecke arrived at the school. With his megaphone in hand, he began preaching as the final bell rang at 1:35 p.m.
By 1:39 p.m., two police officers approached Meinecke, one aiming a stun gun at him.
“They’re about to take me to jail because I’m telling you about Jesus!” Meinecke shouted to students, as seen in his YouTube video of the arrest. “Because I love you! And I want you to go to Heaven!”
Meinecke was arrested by officers Mike Perry and Jack Millard. He was released from Lee County Jail on $200 bond after five hours in custody.
“I wasn’t actually there [Fort Myers High School] to preach hard against sin at all,” Meinecke said. “I was just there to encourage the students about Jesus.”
Meinecke laid a poster, which read “Jesus Saves from Hell,” on the ground in front of the high school.
“I only brought one,” said Meinecke, who often displays five or six posters at FSW. “They label a lot of sins. Sometimes those messages, for the high school students, can be a bit much, and I understand that. I wanted to be sensitive to that.”
Meinecke said he had preached at Fort Myers High School before. In April 2018, Officer Robert Kerbs of the Fort Myers Police Department looked at his identification and told Meinecke he was within his rights because he was off school grounds.
This time, however, the public booking report said that as Perry approached the scene, Meinecke stepped off the sidewalk and onto school premises. Perry gave direct orders to stop his actions and that he was in violation of a school safety zone. Miller then arrived as backup, and he and Perry took Meinecke into custody.
Meinecke said that he was within his rights.
“I understand parents are concerned about their kids,” said Meinecke, “but it doesn’t take away from the power of our freedom of expression.”