He said, they said

Bay News 9, Florida/July 11, 2006

A man filming a documentary outside the Church of Scientology in Clearwater says he was attacked by a man claiming to be a Scientologist.

But a Scientology spokeswoman says the photographer, Shawn Lonsdale, has been harassing their staff and members for weeks, and that the fight was not a church incident.

Lonsdale said his cameras have been pointed toward the Church of Scientology in Clearwater every day for two weeks.

"Basically, I'm filming a pseudo-documentary for one of our free-access Pinellas web channels," Lonsdale said.

Lonsdale's not hiding what he's doing. He posted a big sign near him that reads "Cult Watch," which is the name of his documentary. Lonsdale says on Saturday, a man identifying himself as a Scientologist came out of a nearby coffee shop and started arguing with him.

"A strange guy comes running across the street with a cup of coffee in his hand yelling that I'm a religious bigot," Lonsdale said.

That man, 52-year old Michael Fitzgerald, was arrested after he and Lonsdale got into a fight about the filming.

"I picked up the camera again and started filming him," Lonsdale said. "He went right for my face and my head, backed me up into a pole to which I had no other choice but to defend myself."

The Church of Scientology won't say if Fitzgerald is a church member, saying the incident is a private matter, but it did provide a man, Drew Sweet, as a witness to the fight.

When a Bay News 9 reporter asked him for his view about who was at fault, Sweet answered, "That's hard to say. Obviously, you can film. It's your right to film, but the first swing was by Shawn."

But Clearwater police arrested Fitzgerald and charged him with battery. The police said they're not releasing the videotape or incident report because the case is still under investigation.

The church still believes Lonsdale is a threat, saying it is concerned for the safety of staff and parishioners.

Scientology spokesperson Pat Harney said in a written statement that Lonsdale has been stalking and harassing church members and staff and they've urged them to stay away from him.

Fitzgerald has posted bond and is out of jail.

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