CENTRAL, La. (AP) — A Louisiana police department has been bombarded by callers looking to voice their support of a pastor who was accused of attempting to hit someone with his church bus while violating a ban on mass gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, police said Wednesday.

In a Facebook post, police in the Baton Rouge suburb of Central apologized to residents who couldn’t get through to the agency. Officials said a huge amount of calls supporting Life Tabernacle Church Pastor Tony Spell have tied up the phone lines.

Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran said Spell’s mother, Magi Spell, shared the department’s phone number on social media and encouraged people to inundate the line with calls.

Corcoran said the phone number is the department’s only line and residents need it to request assistance. He told residents to keep calling if they need help or, in the event of an emergency, to call 911.

Spell was arrested April 21 and charged with assault after he admitted to driving his church bus toward a man protesting Spell’s decision to hold mass gatherings in defiance of public health orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

Spell was placed on house arrest and on Sunday violated both orders by again holding a church service. District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office didn’t plan to pursue the matter.

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