Saturday, October 6, 2007

Student charged despite lack of evidence

The Register-Herald, October 3 2007

A Woodrow Wilson High School student was arrested Wednesday and charged with bringing a weapon to school, Beckley police said.

The 17-year-old boy from the Beckley area was charged with bringing a dangerous weapon into an educational facility, Cpl. Sam McClure said. Police will obtain juvenile petitions against the boy. He was released to a guardian’s custody.

Wednesday morning, school officials told police a student reportedly had a handgun in his possession, McClure said. The campus was placed under lockdown and searched by K-9 units. No weapon was found.

However, police obtained witness statements at the scene, McClure said. Based on information gathered in the investigation, police charged the boy, believing he had brought a weapon to school at some other point.

Woodrow Principal Bob Maynard said the lockdown began around 8:45 a.m. and ended around 10:15 a.m. During a lockdown, all students are kept inside classrooms and no one is allowed in the hallways.

Maynard said Beckley police officers and their K-9 units would have been at the school Wednesday anyway for a random search. During that time, school personnel received the gun report.

“They were there for a random search, and they happened to be there when the report of the weapon was made,” Maynard said.

“(The K-9s) are very useful and prevalent. They are a good tool to have to help schools out. We have a good working relationship with the Beckley Police Department.”

Personnel at Woodrow will always work to ensure the school is a safe environment for all students, Maynard said.

Witness statements are cause for investigation, but to return no evidence and yet still arrest the accused on the same charges is a heinous presumption of guilt. In our justice system, the enforcers first must prove that a crime was committed; then the judicial system determines whether the crime was committed by the accused. The crime is based on possession of a weapon, and if none can be found then the accusations are nothing but hearsay. I hope the family's lawyer rips apart the police's procedures at the hearing.

"The arrest was based on witness reports that led police to believe the boy had brought a gun to school at some point." How much more uncertain and ambiguous can we get? How can we tolerate this kind of attack on our freedom? And how ironic that it is all in the name of safety; where anyone can be accused, arrested, and charged for vaguely defined crimes in the past or present, and have their lives ruined without a shred of evidence, then NOBODY is safe.

We need to be reminded that "Freedom" and "Liberty" are not merely words or mottoes or political tokens, they are genuine ideas that need our support. If you want to argue that 'freedom is not free' then I challenge you to dismiss charges against this student and have the school formally apologize to him. Freedom means freedom from fear, from oppression, from tyranny and from persecution, and this student--like all Americans--has a right to be free.