Lawyer For Teen Arrested For A Science Experiment Working To Prevent Felony Charges From Being Filed [Q&A]

kiera wilmot

On Monday, April 29, honour student Kiera Wilmot was arrested for playing with chemicals on school grounds.

After mixing aluminium foil and toilet cleaner in a small water bottle — a common prank called “The Works” bomb — the bottle exploded with a small pop and a bit of smoke, from the creation of hydrogen gas.

According to the police report, Kiera is facing the possibility of two felony charges: “possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds” and “discharging a destructive device.”

She told officers that she was conducting a science experiment.

We talked to her lawyer, Larry Hardaway, to get the latest on the case. This is a lightly edited version of our chat:

Business Insider: What’s the latest on Kiera’s situation?

Larry Hardaway: Right now we have stayed the administration’s proceedings with the school board until we can work out a resolution. On the juvenile prosecution part, the state attorney’s office has not decided to file charges. We will have further negotiations next week about how to move forward without harming her. So things are moving forward.

BI: What about those two felonies?

LH: I’m working as hard as I can to keep those from happening. Those are still available for the state of Florida to do. But those conversations that we’ve had are confidential, but personally I don’t think they will go forward in that fashion.

BI: What are other possible outcomes?

LH: From alternative charging, they can do that from misdemeanours … to something called diversion. That means they take the matter out of the normal criminal process, they allow for some conditions for the suspect or defendant to accomplish. If that person accomplishes those satisfactorily, then the case is dropped. That is available.

 BI: What’s the worst case scenario?

LH: The worst case scenario has been all on the news, and that is that they file the criminal felony charges, they treat her as an adult, and that opens her up to a prosecution that could lead to jail time.

For those offenses that she could be charged with, if she were to be treated as an adult, are punishable by up to five years in state prison. Here in Florida we have a process of sentencing that uses a recommendation from what we call scoring via sensitive surrounding the events. She doesn’t have a prior history, she wouldn’t get points for prior history, there is limited aggravation, and what occurred was unintentional.

There would not be any jail time in a case like this. And probably the warranted sentence would be probation with some conditions.

BI: How would being charged with a felony impact her life going forward?

LH: Here in Florida Governor Scott limited the restoration process of restoring rights here in Florida, and also the law here in Florida lets you only expunge one felony offence, one would be on her record for life.

These offenses will stay with you for the rest of your life, and there will be some jobs you won’t be able to get.

BI: What’s the best case scenario? Is there a possibility that this could all be dropped?

LH: Certainly, there is a scenario where that could happen. And that’s the one I’m seeking!

BI: What’s the situation with Kiera’s expulsion from school?

LH: We are actually challenging the recommendation [of expulsion]. All districts have different rules that they work under in the district. Here in Polk County, a level 8 offence is the offence of possessing or manufacturing a bomb on a school board’s campus.

This is what she’s been charged with and with that offence, there’s an automatic recommendation for expulsion. Either the kid agrees to the expulsion, or goes through a process where you have hearings to address it.

That recommendation of expulsion goes through this process to the school board, Polk County School Board has the ultimate decision making authority.

If they find that the individual committed the offence, that individual is automatically expelled for one year. As you know Kiera is ending her 11th-grade year, so expulsion for one year really removes her from her regular learning education environment, and she’d have to go elsewhere, either to an alternative school here or to another district.

BI: How are Kiera and the family holding up?

LH: I’m in contact with them several times a day, every day. They are holding up well.

We are hopeful that everything will work out. Things are moving forward, we can see improvements in our relationships with the school board and the state’s attorney’s office.

And we think that eventually this will work out in the best interests of Kiera.

BI: How has she been reacting to the situation, and the outpouring of support from the community?

LH: I’ve taken the time and her mum has agreed to make this a teaching moment for her, one in which she understands the involvement of government in one’s life, and how government can significantly effect your life.

It’s also a teaching moment for conduct that you want to stay away from.

And so, I’ve been keeping her advised of everything that I’m doing, and I’m allowing her to tell me how she feels about the different stages that we are going through. And so I think she feels better about it; she clearly wants to get back to school with her friends. But she knows she’s not going to be able to do that for a while.

I think she’s psychologically stable, emotionally stable right now but that clearly can change if we happen to lose some hope. But, so far so good.

BI: Are they still planning to charge her as an adult?

LH: Actually, they’ve not decided to charge her as an adult. They will only do that if they file formal documents that will include her as an adult. Presently, she’s still being held within the juvenile jurisdiction.

BI: Since writing my original story on Kiera, I’ve had many people ask how they can help. Have you set up a legal defence fund?

LH: We really do need to do that to complete what we are doing. Kiera lives with her mum and her mum is, as you might imagine, a single parent who is trying to take care of twins. Kiera is a twin, has a twin sister, who actually was there when this occurred, at the same school and in the same grade.

Her mum is trying to do the best she can. She doesn’t have funds to do all that we want to do. We are trying to just do the best that we can. We may set up something to get funds, but I tell you, what’s really helping us the most right now is the outpouring and community attention to this and the many petitions seeking the kind of justice that we think should occur. That is really helping us the most right now.

[Sign the and ACLU petitions to get Kiera’s charges dropped.]

BI: I’ve heard the term school-to-prison pipeline thrown around a lot in this conversation — can you explain that to me?

LH: The proximity of how it applies in this situation is not good, there are better examples.

Yet, what is being said is when you have no-tolerance policies that prevent or prohibit considering some of this stuff case by case — and fully appreciating differences in these occurrences — you do start wharehousing people toward prison.

This is what occurs, really. You get charged with an offence for something minor that when I went to school you’d get a few licks and put back in the classroom. It starts you down that road of limiting and hindering your life. You do something like what could potentially happen to Kiera, in which she can’t get a certain job, or she can’t go to college, and then they start losing hope, and eventually they lose so much home and they start committing things that does lead to prison.

BI: Are there any similar cases that have happened before? Where kids have been charged for an accident on school grounds?

LH: Yeah. I’ve seen a number of it.

I’ve seen instances where kids are playing and it looks like one is striking one intentionally to harm, and that is not the case. And law enforcement comes in because we have resource officers here in Florida, which are police on campus. And that police officer who sees something that looks like a crime, it’s his job to investigate and determine if it has occurred, and his next step is to send a complaint to the state attorney’s office that there’s a crime that has occurred, even if it’s just a prank between kids.

So that prank becomes reason for that kid to have a criminal record.  

Yes. It happens a lot.

BI: Does Assistant State Attorney Tammy Glotfelty have a history of levying too-harsh charges?

LH: Oh, no. No, Tammy is a very fine prosecutor.

Some of the comments I’ve heard are inaccurate. I wish people wouldn’t make those comments about Tammy. Because they are untrue.

There are prosecutors that are sometimes hardened, and aren’t as sensitive as they should be, but that wouldn’t be Tammy Glotfelty.

BI: People are drawing correlations between Kiera’s case, and the story of Taylor Richardson, who wasn’t charged when he accidentally killed his brother with a BB gun. What’s the story there?

LH: There’s a little difference. There’s a gun, and gun control situation, in the Richardson matter, but what increased the sensitivity here in the case with Kiera, was that it’s a bomb on a school campus of young people.

So, you’ve got two instances that occurred here in our country where you’ve got a bomb that exploded in Boston and hurt people, and then you’ve got some act on a school where young people are killed.

There was really heightened sensitivity when there’s any report of a combustible item on a school campus when some kid could have gotten hurt. People immediately think of Boston, and start calling it a bomb when it isn’t a bomb. They are using words like it was detonated — and I hear this and I’m going, “wow.” But that’s how they were viewing it.

Bi: Do you think this overreaction can be connected to the Boston bombings, then?

LH: Yeah, yeah, I’m certain that people will overreact to something that they think will be similar and they could be far different.

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