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Associate pastor facing preliminary hearing in Las Vegas; has new respect for freedom

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Pastor Rob Cox – who works with young people at The Place of Refuge, leads a music ministry and serves as an Associate Pastor – spends a moment with his son Banning outside of his office. Cox is sc...


POSTED July 1, 2014 1:20 a.m.

Rob Cox talks for a living. 

He counsels. He preaches. He speaks in hushed tones in intimate settings during one-on-one meetings and carries a larger-than-life persona on stage in front of hundreds of fellow Christians. 

But for the last month, since the Associate Pastor at The Place of Refuge was arrested at his office by the Manteca Police Department who were exercising a warrant for murder after an incident outside of a Las Vegas restaurant led to a man’s death, Cox has had to remain silent. 

Stifled. Muzzled. Unable to give the specific details of what actually transpired that summer night when he, his family and 18 young adults walked outside of The Four Kegs restaurant – a spot they elected to eat at based on its appearance on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” – and had a life-changing run-in with 55-year-old Link Ellingson. 

According to the police report the 6-foot, 8-inch Ellingson was intoxicated and approached the group in a threatening manner. It also says that Cox punched him – something that he has vehemently denied – and that the punch led to the man stumbling backward and striking his head on the pavement. 

The entire ordeal is currently playing itself out in the Nevada criminal justice system. 

And while Cox and his attorneys are certain that the murder charges that have been filed against him are bogus and that any jury would see the same thing, the prosecutor trying the case has skirted around that – summoning the 18 young people for a criminal Grand Jury probe last week. 

An indictment is possible, and could carry severe consequences. 

Even so, all Cox wants to do is clear his name. 

“I’m looking forward to being able to tell my hometown everything that’s happened and what’s really true,” he said. “I’ve been getting these offers to speak and to travel and to tell my story and that’s not really me – I’m not a professional tour speaker. All I want to be able to do is tell the people here how it all went down.”

• • •

A Youthful Approach to Life

Cox doesn’t look like your stereotypical pastor.

On this particular Monday afternoon, he sits low in a brown leather chair with his feet propped up –wearing a pair of khaki shorts and a blue short sleeved broadcloth button-down shirt. 

His short hair is spiked, and he looks years younger than the 35 that been printed in the media accounts lately. 

And there have been a lot of them. 

Since his arrest went public, a flurry of public support has spurred a massive interest by national news outlets including an on-air interview with FOX News and mentions on famed prosecutor Nancy Grace’s HLN show. Newspapers from Los Angeles to New York have picked up the story.

Cox talks about the firestorm with a California cool (he’s actually a South Florida native) one wouldn’t expect from somebody facing a charge of premeditated murder. His demeanor is unusually calm despite the fact that his words are serious and seemingly charged with fervor. 

What he can say, on the record, are the things that have already been recorded – that the police report that claims that he initially said he punched Ellingson are wrong and that the physical confrontation, where he wrapped his arms around the bear of a man that threw a haymaker punch at him, was an attempt to protect both his family and the young adults in his care.

But it’s his family that Cox focuses on when he tells the story. He talks about how his son, Banning, was there when it all went down. He talks about how he was making funny faces to his daughter who was peering at him out of the window of the RV that they were driving from Texas to California when they decided to stop at a relatively famous eatery that night after an outreach stop just seconds before. And he talks about how it was family he was thinking of when he saw Ellingson coming through the parking lot. 

“If a man can’t defend his family in America,” Cox asked, “then what this country come to?”

• • •

Frustration and Fear

Cox’s office is a blend of function and fun. 

Behind a large executive desk is a full-length, wall-to-wall built-in bookshelf that’s full of volumes of all shapes, sizes and colors. Some are religious. Some aren’t. It doesn’t quite have the flair of a set of legal books, but it’s impressive nonetheless. 

On the desk, appropriately, sits a black bible. But this bible is different. It has a big “Nor Cal” sticker on it – a testament to the unique approach that Cox takes to things. It’s the kind of thing that a young kid with a flair for guitar that’s searching for answers would take a liking to. And that’s exactly what he’s going for. 

His office has chairs – nice ones. But two of them are arranged almost as recliners, and the walls are lined with various posters and mementos. The three CDs that Cox’s band recorded are framed with the album cover above them. His allegiance to the San Francisco 49ers is evident.

And it is here that Cox sits, with a pair of aviator sunglasses on his desk, and talks about why he can’t talk and why that’s so frustrating.

Every online news story that gets posted, for example, often includes a message board below it, and people have been quick to weigh-in with their two-cents. His wife Julie said that about 80 percent of the comments have been supportive, she’s had to stop reading them because the other 20 percent are anything but. 

It’s not that he hasn’t had support. When he was in the San Joaquin County Jail – where he waited for almost a week with the possibility of extradition to Nevada a real possibility – he had members of the church praying outside. Christian pastors from around the world have reached out to him and offered to fly him out to their churches once the case is settled. Even people from other faiths have offered their reassurances and their comfort and encouragement.

But those message boards are also the breeding ground, he says, for misinformation. With even the police report and the arrest warrant being contested, which were publicly available, it has become difficult to try and steer people from fiction. 

So he finds solace in family. And faith. And at least for the interim, freedom. 

“All I can say, man, is that I have a new respect for freedom,” he said. “That’s such a cheesy line, but it’s true. So much more respect.”

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