A high school senior in Ohio is facing felony charges after officials at the technical school he was attending for firefighter training searched his vehicle and found a pocketknife. The young man's future and his dreams of serving the public are now in jeopardy.
"If I am convicted of a felony, I'm never going to be a police officer. I'm never going to be a fireman. I'm never going to be in the military," Jordan Wiser told The Huffington Post. "I won't even be able to be a janitor. I'm 18 years old, and this is going to ruin my entire life."
Wiser was enrolled at the Ashtabula County Technical and Career Campus (A-Tech) in Jefferson, Ohio, a small village located about 60 miles northeast of Cleveland. Wiser told HuffPost he was taking A-Tech's Firefighter 2 and EMT courses.
"Last year, I completed the law enforcement course," he said. "I received several certifications, including the National Terror Defense certification from FEMA, the Terror Recognition certification and [certification as an] Emergency Vehicle Operator."
On Dec. 12, 2013, administrators at A-Tech approached Wiser after someone allegedly tipped them off about videos Wiser had uploaded to YouTube.
The YouTube account in question appears to include reviews of video games and merchandise, demonstrations on home defense tactics and an interview with a local police officer.
"The principal said he had reason to believe I had weapons in my vehicle and needed to search it," Wiser said. "He made me empty out all my pockets, and the vice principal grabbed me and patted me down very forcibly. It was somewhat awkward. Then they took my car keys. I told them what was in my car and said, 'Don't be alarmed.'"
Wiser said he did not give school officials permission to search his vehicle, and there was no warrant to perform the search. School administrators, he said, cited the school handbook as their warrant. He claims they also denied his request to call an attorney.
Inside Wiser's vehicle, officials found an assortment of items, including the folding blade pocketknife, a stun gun and two Airsoft guns. Airsoft is a sport in which participants eliminate opponents by hitting them with spherical non-metallic pellets, launched from the Airsoft guns.
Wiser said the Airsoft guns were in his trunk because he had plans to participate in the sport after school. The stun gun, a nonlethal device capable of incapacitating a person by administering electric shock, was for self-defense, he said. The pocketknife was, according to the teen, part of his EMT kit.
"I didn't think anything of the Airsoft guns," Wiser said. "Our school is a technical school, and I was planning on meeting with my Airsoft team after school. My stun gun was locked in the glove box, and the knife was in my EMT medical vest. I bought it at K-Mart and have it as part of my first responder kit for cutting seatbelts."
Wiser was ultimately arrested and jailed for illegal conveyance of a weapon onto a school ground, a Class 5 felony.
Jerome Brockway, the A-Tech superintendent, declined to discuss the case and referred questions to the county prosecutor.
"We charge [people] with everything that we feel they are guilty of, and in this case, he is guilty of a felony," Harold Specht, the chief assistant prosecutor at the Ashtabula County prosecutor's office, told HuffPost.
Specht said the charge is related only to the knife found inside Wiser's vehicle. The teen is not facing charges for possession of the stun gun or the Airsoft guns.
"I was in jail for almost 13 days," Wiser said. "The first bond hearing I went to was on December 15. The judge ordered me [to be] held on a half million-dollar bond, pending a psychological evaluation. I did that and passed. They found I was not suicidal, homicidal or a threat to anybody. My attorney brought it up in front of a different judge, who let me out on a $50,000 bond and an ankle monitor. I was released from jail on Christmas Eve."
Wiser acknowledges he should not have had any of the items on school property and said he is willing to accept punishment for that; however, he does not feel a felony charge is fitting, considering the circumstances.
"There are kids at my school all the time who get caught with knives and are suspended," he said. "My school is very rural, and people carry knives. I can accept the fact that there was a lapse in judgment, and I can accept a punishment, but I have already been expelled from both the tech school and my home school. The Army -- I was enrolled in the Future Soldiers program and was scheduled to ship out in August -- has discharged me, pending a not guilty verdict or dropped charges without prejudice."
Wiser said the conditions of his bond also prohibit him from having any contact with his grandfather, who is dying from cancer.
"The one judge I went in front of told me to remove any firearms from my parents' house and put them at my grandpa's house," Wiser said. "The next judge freaked out about me even knowing what a gun is and put a no contact order against me and my grandparents. My grandfather is dying right now, and I am not allowed within 500 feet of him."
Specht said his office believes the felony charge is justified and has no plans to reduce the charge.
"There are all these school occurrences where people are shot, people are killed by other students," Specht said. "We see it every day … so we don't take these things lightly. … We have to be sure that we don't have a potential for something like that to happen here."
Wiser said he takes offense to the comparison.
"I was enlisted in the Army and went to school to be [a] police officer and fireman," he explained. "Why are they trying to paint me as a potential school shooter? I never had any intentions of hurting a soul."
Wiser's attorney, William Bobulsky, did not return calls for comment from HuffPost.
There was a petition on change.org that demanded the charges be reduced to a misdemeanor. Within 48 hours, the petition garnered 1,349 signatures; however, Wiser said he had to ask that the petition be taken down.
"The court threatened to hold sanctions against me and my lawyer," he said. "I guess the prosecutor was upset because his inbox had been flooded with emails as a result of the petition."
Specht admitted he is aware of the controversy surrounding the case, but he believes he can prove the justification behind the charge when it goes to court.
"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," he said. "If this goes to trial, it will certainly come out in the wash."
Wiser is scheduled to appear in court again on April 1 for a pretrial hearing. A jury trial is tentatively scheduled for June 11.
Attorney Colin Maher, owner and managing member of The Maher Law Firm in Columbus, Ohio, said the case could go either way once it is given to a jury.
"[Would] a jury consider a four-inch knife as a weapon? I think it would be difficult…but with a jury, you never know," Maher conceded.
For now, Wiser's future remains in the balance.
"Never in my life did I think this would happen," Wiser said. "I dedicated my life to public service, and now a four-inch pocketknife could ruin everything."
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