14-Year-Old Arrested For Wearing Rosary At Football Game

| by Lisa Fogarty

A 14-year-old boy from Amarillo, Texas, was reportedly hurt by a police officer after he refused to remove his rosary beads at a middle school football game Wednesday night.

Jacob Herrera’s mother Lori Martinez says her son was approached by officer Corporal Wilson and told to take off his rosary bead necklace. A witness named Marivell Chavez says the teen was then held to the ground, where she says he shouted, “call my mom” and “I can’t breathe,” reports

“You know he handcuffed him and then crossed him across the street right there and slammed him again and he repeatedly slammed the child on the floor,” Chavez said.

But a spokesperson for the Amarillo Police Department denies the allegations and says the officer acted accordingly after the teen began fighting with him and refusing to remove the beads. Rosaries are reportedly a symbol of an association with a gang, and though police say they aren’t accusing Jacob of having gang ties, the religious item is prohibited at school events.

“He was fighting with the officer, he wouldn’t comply with the commands, he wouldn’t put his arms behind his back,” said Cpl Jerry Neufeld. “The officer used a couple of different compliance holds to try and get him to put his hands behind his back, he did not deploy his taser, he just tried to get him under control. They rolled on the ground for several minutes.”

Martinez says her son is not a gang member and that he wears the rosary because it has sentimental value to him after the death of his sibling. Jacob is currently being held at the Youth Center of High Plains. Some of his friends at Amarillo ISD and other parents who say they witnessed the confrontation wore rosaries Thursday to symbolize their demand for justice for the student.

But Jacob’s school seems to be sticking with the law on this one.

Amarillo ISD released the following statement: “Last night at one of our schools, a student was identified as being in violation of the dress code for wearing an item in a manner which is considered to be gang related by local and national law enforcement. A school administrator and liaison officer asked the student to either comply with the dress code rules or leave school property. The student repeatedly refused to comply with either option. At that time, the student was arrested for trespassing.”


A response via Cpl. Jerry Neufeld of the Amarillo Police Department:

It is not illegal to wear a rosary.  The juvenile in question was arrested for trespassing and resisting arrest.  I understand that some irresponsible people have misunderstood and spread this misinformation, not realizing how much ill will it can generate. 

In the incident, the juvenile was at a school sponsored activity on school property.  The SCHOOL DISTRICT has dress codes, not a law, that bars wearing of some items-including rosaries-that are used or connected to promote or claim gang member status.  I was not aware that this religious symbol had been co-opted by criminals, but I am aware that other religious symbols have been (as have been certain sports logos, etc.).  That aside, the juvenile was contacted by school officials who asked him not to remove it but to put it inside his shirt or to leave. When he failed to do so, a school liaison officer (Amarillo Police officer assigned to the school) offered the juvenile the same option, put it inside his shirt or leave.  The response was a refusal to comply with either, accompanied by profanity and demonstrated defiance and simply stay on the property and continue to ignore school rules and officials.

The officer that made the arrest actually sat and attempted to persuade the juvenile to put the rosary inside his shirt or he was going to have to leave the property. The officer, who is catholic himself, began to ask what the prayers were in association with the different beads. It was very apparent that the juvenile was not wearing the rosary beads for religious belief due to the fact he didn't know there were prayers associated with the beads. I believe the officer asked him to leave more than once, but I'd have to verify that.  When the juvenile would not leave school property, he was advised he was under arrest for TRESPASSING, NOT for wearing a rosary. He would have been given the same option had he been breaking any school dress code or similar rule-stop or leave the property.  It would not mattered if it was a rosary, a shirt with something the school finds objectionable such as profanity or drug or gang themed, or clothing that did not cover everything the school thinks should be covered, for example, on a female. 

He violated Texas law, part of which I have copied below:

§ 30.05. CRIMINAL TRESPASS.  (a) A person commits an offense if he enters or remains on or in property, including an aircraft or other vehicle, of another without effective consent or he enters or remains in a building of another without effective consent and he:

        (1)  had notice that the entry was forbidden;  or                            

        (2)  received notice to depart but failed to do so.                          

            (b)  For purposes of this section:                                            

        (1)  "Entry" means the intrusion of the entire body.                         

        (2)  "Notice" means:                                                         

            (A)  oral or written communication by the owner or someone with apparent authority to act for the owner;

While the article refers to a witness.…a family friend (who also told TV media that we tased him to create more buzz, but later admitted that we did not) stating he said he couldn’t breathe. Somehow while he could not breathe, he managed to use the F word to excess while yelling and screaming. He also managed to throw out some racial slurs towards the officer. Also the fact that an independent witness, not affiliated with the school in question or any of the parties involved, approached the officer and commended him for his professionalism how he handle the situation without losing his composure.  

Please feel free to contact us at any time  if you have further questions or comments.


Photo Credit: Elvert Barnes/Flickr,