Founders of Rastafarian church in Madison arrested after drug search warrant served
MADISON, Wis. — Two men were arrested Wednesday after a drug search warrant was served at the Rastafarian church in Madison.
Madison police said the founders of the Lion of Judah, House of Rastafari were taken into custody Wednesday morning. Jesse R. Schworck, 39, of Madison, was arrested on suspicion of delivery of marijuana and maintaining a drug dwelling. He was taken into custody at the scene.
Dylan P. Bangert, 23, of Madison, was also arrested on suspicion of maintaining a drug dwelling and party to a crime of delivery of marijuana.
A spokesperson for the Madison Police Department said Schworck is also facing battery and disorderly conduct charges for an incident that happened outside the church on May 24. Officers said Schworck hit a man in the leg with a baseball bat outside the church because of an issue with a transaction.
The Rastafarian church is located at 555 W. Mifflin St. in Madison. The founders say the church is a cannabis sanctuary and members use marijuana as part of their religious practice.
Byron and his son, Jerald Sersch, said they were inside the building along with Schworck and Bangert Wednesday morning just before 9 a.m. when officers came to execute the search warrant.
“I was just standing there, cleaning the bathrooms, doing my normal routine. (Then) bam! The doors broke open. They told me to get my hands up. I raised my hands; they come and handcuff me,” Byron Sersch said.
Madison police are at the Lion of Judah House of Rastafari. They tell me they’re serving a drug search warrant, and they have people detained. Officers say there are no injuries, and the investigation is ongoing. #news3now pic.twitter.com/r8RHFCLd7E
— Rose Schmidt (@RoseSchmidtTV) May 29, 2019
He said he and his son check IDs when people come inside the building and they’re grateful for the “family” they have at the church.
“We’re homeless. We volunteer here. These people gave us a place to stay, sleep. They kept us warm. They feed us twice a day,” he said.
The founders of the church say the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protect them from being legally punished for using marijuana.
The Madison city attorney’s office sent a cease-and-desist letter on April 12 saying there is no documentation to support Lion of Judah’s claims that it is a church. The letter also said that even if Lion of Judah is a church, that does not change the fact that marijuana is illegal in Wisconsin.
The church’s founders also filed a federal lawsuit on April 18, claiming the letter and confiscation go against their First Amendment rights.
“It’s genuinely a church. We have lots of literature you can come in and catch up on in there. We have books that explain our religion,” Jerald Sersch said.
As a result of the search warrant being executed Wednesday, glass was broken out of a number of windows and doors. The Sersches said they have a lot of work ahead to clean up the church.
“I think they’re doing the wrong thing. There’s many other things they could be cracking down on,” Jerald Sersch said.
There were no injuries as a result of Wednesday’s warrant, according to a release from the Madison Police Department.
Officers said this is an active investigation and no further details are being released at this time.
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