Jared Marcum is 14 years old. He just graduated the eighth grade. And if prosecutors in Logan, W.Va., have their way, he will be a convict before he can legally operate a motor vehicle.
Jared was thrust into the national limelight when, standing in the Logan Middle School cafeteria line, he refused a teacher’s order to turn his NRA T-shirt inside out to hide its image of a hunting rifle. In the principal’s office, he explained that the shirt was not in violation of school policy and that the teacher’s order was a violation of his rights. After consulting the school’s policy manual and putting in a call to the school attorney, the teacher conceded. That should have been the end of the kerfuffle.
But about that time, the local police chief arrived, accompanied by two officers. A little while later, Jared was accompanied out of the office in handcuffs. In the interim, says Ben White, Jared’s attorney, police had demanded that Jared sit down and be quiet. Jared did the former but not the latter, insisting on telling his side of the story. As his frustration rose, so did the officers’: One of them threatened Jared with a terrorism charge. When the officer insisted that he had a right to arrest Jared, the eighth-grader said he understood and respected this right — and held up his wrists. Officer James Adkins nonetheless cuffed him for “obstructing an officer.”
If that seems premature, Adkins defended his actions earlier this month at Jared’s preliminary hearing by claiming he felt that Jared had threatened his safety.
One might think that Jared was the one who should have felt unsafe. By the time he was arrested, he was the lone student in an office with three police officers, two teachers, the principal, and a secretary. But it was the 14-year-old who allegedly prevented Adkins from doing his job.
It is exactly such silliness that has characterized the entirety of Jared’s introduction to the West Virginia legal system. Judge Eric O’Briant determined earlier this month that there was probable cause to move ahead with the case. On July 11, Jared will return to court for a ruling on his attorney’s motion to dismiss the charges. If denied, Jared’s case will go to trial, and if convicted, he could face up to a $500 fine or a year in juvenile detention.
White says that the prosecution’s case against Jared does not satisfy the elements of obstruction as they are articulated under West Virginia law. The brief he has filed with the court cites numerous precedents — from circuit courts to the Supreme Court — that demonstrate that obstruction requires more than merely talking to an officer of the law.
“Jared said nothing foul or obscene,” says White. “He didn’t lie. He didn’t do anything to deceive the officer.” There was no violence or even a suggestion of physical conflict. But that has not kept prosecutors from pushing forward.
But the national spotlight has resulted in a pushback against the prosecution. Earlier this week, Jared unexpectedly found himself back in court to combat a gag-order request, which would have barred Jared, his family, and his attorney from speaking to members of the press. White suspects it was prosecutors’ misguided attempt to stem the massive amounts of e-mail and telephone traffic that have poured in as press outlets and social-media sites encourage readers to contact the prosecutors (and other state officials, including the governor). But “a gag order is not the way to combat that,” says White, though he is sympathetic to the challenges that media attention can create. “The public has a right to know what is going on, and defendants have a right to tell their side of the story.” The state withdrew its request, and the two sides compromised: Jared’s mother signed a confidentiality waiver that will allow prosecutors to speak with the press, a practice that is typically prohibited in juvenile cases. (Logan County prosecutors did not respond to National Review’s request for a comment.)
But the attempted gag order is only one example of prosecutors’ ineptitude in a case that screams for prosecutorial discretion. Now, even those intervening in Jared’s behalf are being treated with a heavy hand. Charlo Greene, a local reporter who has been chronicling Jared’s case since April for WOWK-TV, prepared a petition to intervene with the gag order in behalf of local media, but he was barred on two separate occasions from entering the Logan County Courthouse by the bailiff, who claimed to be acting on Judge O’Briant’s orders. The bailiff even threatened to arrest Greene for — you guessed it — obstructing an officer.
It’s anyone’s guess why the prosecution and the judge are choosing to use such oppressive tactics in an already unpopular case. White told WOWK-TV, “It just seems like nobody wants to admit they’re wrong.” Meanwhile, Jared has become a local cause célèbre. He has trouble going into town without generating a crowd, and he has received more than a little encouragement from the small community: The Monday after Jared’s one-day suspension in April (for “inappropriate behavior with educators and other persons in positions of authority”), 100 students from the elementary, middle, and high schools wore the identical NRA shirt to classes.
And it’s support, not stardom, that Jared needs. White, who took Jared’s case pro bono, says that thousands of dollars in expenses — court transcripts, expert testimony, etc. — will probably be necessary in the coming months, and the ability to foot those bills will depend on outside support. Anyone interested in assisting Jared can contact:
Benjamin F. White, Attorney at Law, PLLC
338 Main Street
Chapmanville, WV 25508
Tel: (304) 855-2369
Toll Free: 1 (800) BF WHITE
One hopes that a little common sense will soon return to the halls of Logan County Courthouse, and that Jared will have the chance to enjoy what remains of his summer vacation. He starts high school in the fall. And that’s challenge enough for any 14-year-old.
UPDATE: WOWK-TV reports that over the weekend Judge Eric O’Briant dropped the criminal obstruction charge against Jared. It is, says White, “a victory for common sense.” Indeed.
— Ian Tuttle is an intern at National Review.