DALLAS, June 18, 2013 — Jared Marcum, 14, appeared in court this week. The West Virginia resident and former eighth grader was arrested and suspended after refusing to remove his “fight for your right” National Rifle Association t-shirt. Charged with obstructing an officer, Marcum faces a $500 fine and a maximum of one year in prison.
According to Marcum’s stepfather, Allen Lardieri, the incident escalated as his son stood in line at the cafeteria. A Logan Middle School teacher approached him, informed he had to remove his NRA t-shirt or switch it inside out. Marcum refused and was escorted from the cafeteria to the office of Principal Ernestine Sutherland, AP reports.
“I was surprised. It shocked me that the school didn’t know their own dress code and their own policy. I figured they would have known not to call me out on that shirt because there was nothing wrong with it,” Marcum said.
As the situation escalated, the teen reportedly reminded authorities he was not in dress code violation and was protected by his First Amendment rights.
“When the police came, I was still talking and telling them that this was wrong, that they cannot do this, it’s not against any school policy. The officer, he told me to sit down and be quiet. I said, ‘No, I’m exercising my right to free speech.’ I said it calmly,” he said. “The only disturbance was caused by the teacher. He raised his voice.”
Jared, who has since graduated, was suspended for causing a disruption and returned to school afterward wearing exactly the same shirt. Marcum’s father says that Logan officers (pop. 1,779) went as far as threatening to charge Jared with making terroristic threats.
Students across the rural county showed their solidarity for Marcum by wearing similar shirts, none of which were arrested or suspended.
The Logan County School District’s dress code prohibits displays of profanity, violence, discriminatory messages or sexually suggestive phrases. Any items that glorify alcohol, tobacco or drugs are also banned. The school district’s policy doesn’t prohibit shirts promoting Second Amendment rights.
According to legal documents obtained by CBS local affiliate WOWK-TV, Officer James Adkins did not inform the court of any terrorist threats or violent action. Adkins claims that the 14-year-old boy did not follow his orders to stop talking, which allegedly prevented the officer from performing his police duties. The Logan County Police Department decided to pursue charges against Marcum for obstructing an officer.
Marcum’s attorney, Ben White, spoke with WTRF in defense of his client’s exercise of free speech. “In my view of the facts, Jared didn’t do anything wrong. I think Officer Adkins could have done something differently.”
Marcum’s lawyer is seeking to have all charges dropped and requested that the school preserve surveillance tapes that captured the incident. “I just don’t understand why this teacher reacted the way he did,” White told AP. “If a teacher is telling you to do something that’s wrong, I don’t think you should follow it. But I also don’t think you need to do it in a disrespectful way.”
White acknowledges the school’s authority to restrict potentially disruptive behavior, but claims the school was out of line to restrict free speech. White said Marcum complied with the officer’s requests and was not using foul language.
Lardieri told WTRF, “I’m more of a fighter and so is Jared and eventually we’re going to get through this. I don’t think it should have ever gotten this far. Every aspect of this is just totally wrong,” Lardieri added. “He has no background of anything criminal up until now and it just seems like nobody wants to admit they’re wrong.”
He filmed a video after the recent court case defending Jared. “What happened here in Logan can reverberate outside of Logan. This isn’t over and neither are our rights.” (At about 3:10 on the video is a news report)
Another trial has been scheduled for July 11, but unless charges are dropped, the obstruction of justice conviction and jail time could cost his family money and complicate future prospects for college.
Many wonder why the school involved police in the first place, what probable cause the arresting officer truly had, and why a teacher felt the need to approach Jared about his t-shirt, which violated no policies? Is free speech only free when authorities approve of your message? If a teacher has a personal problem with your views or expression, should that give grounds to potentially ruin a child’s life?
Logan police and the prosecuting attorney, Michael White, could not be reached for comment. You can express yourself to the Logan Police Department or express your support for Jared, sign a petition or share his supportive Facebook page.