Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Fight Over "Saved Seats" After LDS Sacrament Meeting In Plain City, Utah; One Man Arrested

The issue of saving seats in LDS chapels during services occasionally surfaces for discussion in the Bloggernacle, but on Sunday June 30th, it became a criminal justice issue when one ward member was arrested because of a fight over "saved seats". KSTU Channel 13 has the primary story; the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune also weigh in with a few extra facts.

Summary: It began with an argument over seating just prior to an unusually-packed Sacrament meeting with over 400 in attendance at the Meadows Ward located near 2300 North and 3600 West in Plain City, Utah. The surge of interest was triggered by a missionary farewell and a baby blessing. A family that normally does not attend that ward had seated themselves in a pew and was reserving seats for other family members. When 51-year-old Wayne Dodge, a regular member of the ward described as being six-foot-two and weighing 250 lbs, sat down in one of the seats being reserved, angry words were exchanged between the two parties. The individuals resumed their dispute in the parking lot after services, where they briefly exchanged punches. The victim went inside to clean himself up and returned to the parking lot, after which he was struck by a car driven by Dodge, who was subsequently arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony, and disorderly conduct, a class C misdemeanor. The unidentified victim was not arrested and required no hospitalization. A subsequent story reports that Dodge suffered a broken nose.

Bishop Brett Ferrin said he was saddened by the fight, and is counseling both families and trying to bring his ward together. He looks upon this as a teaching moment, one of the split decisions affecting the way we live and the attendant consequences. Of course, Bishop Ferrin might also be secretly grateful that his Sacrament meetings generate so much interest; many bishops have to "fight" just to get people to attend.

Several comments posted to the Ogden Standard-Examiner story indicate that Wayne Dodge may have anger management issues dating back at least 14 years. Supposedly he has a public criminal record of disorderly conduct convictions and obstructing law enforcement officers that go back to at least 1999. I have not been able to find verification so far.

Update October 4th: On October 2nd, Wayne Dodge pleaded not guilty to one count of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony, and one count of assault, a class B misdemeanor, during a brief hearing Ogden’s 2nd District Court. Dodge was also issued a no contact order prohibiting him from contacting the victim or the victim’s family. Dodge’s next court appearance is set for October 16th, and Deputy Weber County Attorney Ben Willoughby anticipates the case eventually moving forward to a preliminary hearing.

Reaction: Posts on the incident have been published at Mormon Mentality and Wheat & Tares, which also has a poll. Numerous comments have been posted to the media sources; here's a sampling:

morpunkt Glendora, CA 11:28 a.m. July 2, 2013 (Deseret News):
I remember a short fist fight that broke out between two elderly ordinance workers, in front of the veil, after a session was over. This occurred approximately 35 years ago. We never figured out what the issue was about. The two men were immediately released from their callings, by the temple president, naturally.

It can get ugly, even in the house of The Lord.

Poqui Murray, UT 12:37 p.m. July 2, 2013 (Deseret News):
Saving seats is rude. If you want to sit together, arrive together. I don't like it when I arrive at church 10 minutes early only to find all the "empty" benches saved. I arrive early to get a good seat, not to be pushed out into the overflow so that some family can stroll in late and all sit together.

Duckhunter Highland, UT 11:38 a.m. July 2, 2013 (Deseret News):
Ridiculous that this escalated to this degree but the truth is the rude bahvior bagan with the people trying to save all the pews.

I go early to church every week and while I don't sit in the exact same pew every time I sit in more or less the same section of seats. My family usually comes later than I do and then sits with me. But I never try to take up multiple rows of seats for people that are not there yet. My take on it is that if people want a certain block of seats then they need to get there early and actually sit in them. Having one family memeber show up and sit in one row while throwing his sciptures down in another row, his suit coat in another row, a diaper bag in another and then heading out to talk in the hall is incredibly rude.

My guess is this family had one guy trying to save a bunch of rows while the rest of the familt leisurely strolled in 1 minute before the meeting began. Meanwhile others that came early were denied seats.

There's plenty of blame all around this situation.

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