A Johnston County man has been arrested again and again for trespassing at the same rural Johnston County church.
Today (Tuesday) marks 1,402 days Elton Eugene Bryant of Brentwood Circle, Angier has spent in the Johnston County Jail on charges directly related to trespassing at the Piney Grove Chapel Baptist Church at 4440 Piney Grove Road off Highway 210 near the Harnett County line. It has cost Johnston County taxpayers more than $70,000 to keep him in jail.
It appears there is no end in sight. After the last 10 court cases, Bryant is released but usually returns to the church in a matter of days and is arrested again. It’s a pattern that’s been going on nearly 5 years.
It all began in April 2012. Bryant reportedly walked up to the Piney Grove Chapel Baptist and began causing a disturbance. He was arrested by the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office for trespassing and was released after one day in custody.
Bryant was arrested in August 2012 and released on September 27, 2012 after 39 days in jail. Just three days later, on September 30, 2012 he was arrested a third time and spent the next 44 days in the Johnston County Jail.
This time, Bryant was released from jail on November 13, 2012. Five days later on November 18th he showed back up at the church and was arrested for the 4th time. He spent 58 days in jail this time before a judge found him guilty and released him for time served on January 15, 2013.
Bryant didn’t show back up at Piney Grove until June 6, 2013, was arrested the 5th time, and spent 49 days in jail before being released on August 4, 2013, according to court records. One week later, on August 11, 2013 Bryant returned to church and was arrested for his 6th offense.
Bryant spent the next 467 days in the Johnston County Jail before he was finally released on November 21, 2014. It took Bryant just 9 days –November 30th – before he returned to the church for the 7th time and was again arrested.
This time Bryant spent 60 days in jail and was released on Jan. 29, 2015. Several days later on Feb. 8, 2015, Bryant returned and was arrested for the 8th time for trespassing. This time the 50 year-old unemployed man spent 326 days in the county jail. He was released by the courts on December 31, 2015.
His freedom was short lived. Three days later, on Jan. 3, 2016 Bryant was arrested for the 9th time for trespassing at Piney Grove. He spent 29 days in jail before his release.
On February 28, 2016, Bryant landed in jail for the 10th time for trespassing at church. He spent the next 313 days in lockup until his release on January 6, 2017.
It took Bryant just 23 days until his next arrest. On Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017 Bryant was arrested after showing up at church just before 10:00am. He is still in custody awaiting trial.
As of today Bryant has been arrested 11 times for trespassing. He has spent a total of 1,402 days in jail on charges directly related to trespassing at the same church.
In 2012, court documents indicated a judge requested a mental health evaluation. The results of the evaluation are not public record.
Church Declines Comment
Officials at Piney Grove Church declined to comment for our story. One church member who wished not to be named said they have no idea why Bryant continues to return to their church. The member told us that several former law enforcement officers who attend the church, carry firearms with them and monitor all the entrances while services are held looking out for Bryant to return.
Sheriff, District Attorney React
“Every individual and church family has the right to assemble and worship freely and without fear,” Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell told WTSB News. “As Sheriff, I will continue to do everything within my authority to ensure this right is available to every person in our county.”
District Attorney Susan Doyle said the courts are doing all they can with Bryant. “The defendant is charged with second degree trespass each time he goes back to the church. Second degree trespass is a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 20 days in jail. The defendant receives the maximum active sentence each time he comes to court.”
“The only reason he has served longer jail sentences is because different judges have found him in contempt of their previous orders for continuing to go back to the church. It is on the contempt charge, not the second degree trespass, that has allowed judges to sentence him to additional time,” Doyle told WTSB News.
On average it costs $50 per day to house an inmate in the Johnston County Jail. As of today, it has cost taxpayers $70,100 to house Bryant for the 1,402 days he has spent in custody.
He is set to go to trial on the 11th charge on March 20th.
No one knows why Bryant continues to target the church which is about 2-1/2 miles away from his home. When he is eventually released again, officials say it’s very likely he will once again return to Piney Grove Church where members will be waiting and watching.