By JOSH AULT
6 News Reporter
KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A snake handling preacher from Kentucky had his snakes confiscated while traveling through Knoxville, and now he wants them back.
The pastor's five snakes were taken after he was pulled over by a Knoxville Police Department officer on Interstate 40 on Jan. 31. The officer pulled Pastor Gregory Coots, of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus' Name, in Middlesboro, Ky., over for his windows being tinted, and then discovered the snakes in the back seat.
Earlier that same day Coots was pulled over by Tennessee Highway Patrol for speeding, but was not cited.
In the state of Tennessee it is illegal to have any type of poisonous snake.
The five snakes taken, three rattlesnakes and two copperheads, are now being taken care of at the Rainforest Adventure Zoo in Sevierville.
Coots wants them back for his worship services.
"I feel the state of Tennessee is so harsh because the first documented serpent handling was George Hensley in Cleveland, Tenn.," said Coots. "I think that's why Tennessee is so hard. I don't really know."
Coots said he bought the snakes in Alabama. He said laws in Alabama and South Carolina are not as harsh.
Last July 6 News showed you that snake handling at worship services still occurs in Tennessee.
Pastor Andrew Hamblin allowed us into his service at Tabernacle Church of God in Lafollete.
He has known Pastor Coots for many years.
"When you go against one serpent handler, it means something," said Hamblin. "Not only support of family there, but the support of your brothers from the church there."
This is not just a local story, a crew from National Geographic was also in court Monday. They are in the process of making a reality show featuring both pastors.
Inside court, Coots, and two other church members, were facing misdemeanor charges. Along with being charged with transporting illegal reptiles, the district attorney also charged them with transporting the snakes in improper containers.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officer Joe Durnin was in court as a witness. He was the one who took the snakes into custody after the traffic stop.
"Even if you are trained and experienced in handling them," said Durnin, "there is always the issue of who else is going to be in the home who may be in contact with it."
He explained that normally only zoos or other educational institutions will get a permit to have poisonous snakes. He says there are specific things you have to do to transport the snakes including putting them in cloth bags, and labeling the containers.
After failing to work out a plea agreement, a trial date was set for Feb. 25.
"I paid $800 for them," said Coots. "I would like to get them back."
TWRA officials say they are aware of the snakes at Hamblin's church in Lafollete.