Eighteen year-old Jordan Wiser is training to be a firefighter. He’s a certified emergency vehicle operator who works as a first responder when he’s not attending high school. And, after just spending 13 days in jail, he’s now facing felony charges for weapons possession.
The weapon? A pocketknife. It was in his EMT vest, and he uses it to cut through seatbelts when he’s practicing saving lives.
How did this happen? According to The Huffington Post, administrators at Ashtabula County Technical and Career Campus in Jefferson, Ohio, where Wiser is enrolled, approached the student after someone informed them about videos Wiser had uploaded to YouTube. The videos include reviews of video games and merchandise, demonstrations on home-defense tactics, and an interview with a local police officer. Officials searched Wiser’s car in the school parking lot and found an assortment of items, including a pocketknife, a stun gun, and two Airsoft pellet guns. Wiser said the Airsoft guns were in his trunk because he planned to participate in the sport after school. The stun gun was locked in his glove compartment for self-defense. The pocketknife was inside his EMT medical vest.
For the possession of the pocketknife alone, police arrested and jailed Wiser for 13 days for conveying a weapon onto school grounds—a felony under Ohio law.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Heritage has written about teenagers victimized by weapons ordinances. Last year, Cobb County, Georgia police arrested and charged 17-year-old Cody Chitwood with a felony for bringing weapons into a school zone. The weapons were fishing knives, and they were in his truck, in a tackle box.
At first glance, such weapons ordinances sound sensible. But the criminal law contains the harshest punishments the state metes out, and it should be applied in a proportionate manner. Simply put, it’s absurd to ruin a kid’s life over a pocketknife that he uses to save lives.
Jordan has already been expelled from high school and technical school. The Army terminated his participation in its Future Soldiers program, pending a not guilty verdict or the charges being dropped without prejudice. Wiser realizes he’s in dire straits: “I’m 18 years old, and this is going to ruin my entire life.”
You’d think that Wiser has already endured enough. But there’s no sign that the state will drop the charges—quite the contrary, in fact. “We charge [people] with everything that we feel they are guilty of, and in this case, he is guilty of a felony,” said Ashtabula County assistant prosecutor Harold Specht in an unapologetic statement. He added, “I know that there’s a load of people out here that just think we’re the devil because we’re allegedly ruining this young kid’s life, and that’s not the case at all.”
Perhaps additional facts will come to light. But, as it stands, this incident looks like a shameful exercise of prosecutorial discretion—something of which residents of Ashtabula County should take note come November, when the county’s prosecutor, Nicholas Iarocci, is up for re-election. Unless Iarocci’s office is saving some damning revelation for Wiser’s trial, the charges against this young man are unjustified, and should be dropped before they cause him any more suffering.