Trenton, New Jersey — A Santeria priest in New Jersey has filed a lawsuit against police and other government officials for hurting his chances of adopting children after he faced criminal charges over a dead chicken found in his backyard temple.
Jorge Badillo states that he was in the process of adopting from the Department of Children and Family Services when the police made the discovery on his property.
The incident took place in 2011, when police arrived at Badillo’s home with a search warrant to look for a gun that belonged to his brother. While the search was taking place, police reportedly found a dead chicken on the premises.
“In the course of searching the property for the gun, Lt. Martin and Officer Duda searched the sheds in the yard and required plaintiff to open a large shed with a locked door in the backyard,” the complaint filed in federal court explains. “At the entrance to the shed they observed a dead chicken. Inside the shed Lt. Martin observed plaintiff’s temple.”
“Lt. Martin contacted Victor Amato [with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] and made the initial accusations of animal cruelty after seeing a chicken that had been sacrificed in front of the temple in plaintiff’s backyard,” it continues.
The following day, Amato came to the property without a warrant to investigate Badillo’s activities as a Santeria priest in the sacrificing of chickens in his temple. He began taking pictures of his discoveries, as he not only found the chicken referenced by Martin, but other animals as well.
“After photographing the recently sacrificed chicken and 2 bird heads that were drying for sacrificial use, and a dead turtle that was being kept outside until the ground thawed enough for burial and a live rabbit, Chief Amato demanded to know whether there were any other animals around,” the complaint outlines. “Plaintiff told him that there were 3 guinea hens that he had bought from a farm that morning.”
Badillo’s sister also spoke to the investigator as well.
“She told Chief Amato that the chicken had been sacrificed as part of their religion and that they had a right to practice their religion,” the document continues. “Chief Amato informed her that she had no right to practice Santeria in Monmouth County or in New Jersey or anywhere in the United States.”
Amato then told Badillo to dispose of the dead animals and take the live creatures to a farm or he would be arrested.
Amato returned the following day.
“[He] left 9 tickets for animal abuse or neglect in plaintiff’s mailbox: one ticket for neglect of the pet rabbit, one ticket for neglect for each of the three guinea hens, two tickets relating to the pet turtle, one for failing to keep it properly and one for causing its death, and one ticket for abuse of an animal for each of the 3 birds that had been sacrificed to the Orishas,” the lawsuit states. “Each ticket carried a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a one thousand dollar fine, potentially exposing plaintiff to four and a half years in jail and nine-thousand dollars in fines.”
The charges were later thrown out in municipal court, except for one charge of failing to give his rabbit water, which he asserts is false.
Badillo says that the charges have now hurt his adoption efforts and wants retribution.
“Plaintiff had been in the process of being approved to adopt 2 children through the Department of Children and Family Services,” the suit asserts. “The criminal charges for animal abuse and neglect issued by Chief Amato have adversely affected his ability to adopt.”
Santeria is an Afro-Carribbean religion that is influenced by Roman Catholicism and Native American traditions. Rituals such as drumming, dancing and animal sacrifices are all part of its practice .