Student Arrested for Science Experiment Won't Face Charges After All

Kiera Wilmot, a 16-year-old Florida high school student who was arrested last month for what was essentially a failed science experiment, won't face criminal charges.

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Kiera Wilmot, a 16-year-old Florida high school student who was arrested last month for what was essentially a failed science experiment, won't face criminal charges. Wilmot, whose case drew national media attention and an angry response, was originally charged with two felonies — possession or discharge of a weapon on school property, and discharging a destructive device — after she mixed household chemicals on school grounds, causing a small explosion. But she's not off the hook entirely: Wilmot, who by all accounts was a model student, could still face expulsion.

At Bartow High School in Polk County, Wilmot apparently earned good grades, had no discipline problems ( "She has never been in trouble before, ever," principal Ron Pritchard said), and was well-liked by students and administrators. So it's not that surprising that the State Attorney's Office was able to find way to avoid criminalizing her after others began to pay attention to her case (for instance: one petition asking prosecutors to drop the charges gained nearly 200,000 signatures). Prosecutors eventually offered Wilmont something called "an offer of diversion of prosecution," which will allow her to avoid a criminal record by serving community service, or meeting other, undisclosed conditions, according to the Orlando Sentinel. As they explain, Wilmont is still fighting to avoid expulsion and return to Bartow High next year. Right now, she's taking classes at an alternative school to finish out the year.

Nationally, Wilmot's case quickly took on deep meaning for a multitude of reasons. For some, Wilmot's arrest represented a racial bias in the criminal prosecution of teenagers — the prosecutor who, according to the police report, had originally recommended to police that Wilmot be charged as an adult, had just days before declined to prosecute a white, 13-year-old boy in the county who accidentally shot and killed his brother with a BB gun. For others, the case represented a dangerous trend of criminalizing curious, bright students when they make mistakes. And many noted that Wilmot was just one of many students arrested in Florida under the state's strict zero-tolerance policy, which, some argue, has replaced detention with arrest for relatively minor infractions.

In any case, Wilmot's school district previously stood by their decision to expel the student as the story blew up in the news cycle. Now that she's no longer facing charges, the district has released a non-committal statement indicating that they'll at least consider letting Wilmot avoid expulsion: "The Polk County School District will take the State Attorney's decision into consideration in determining what, if any, further disciplinary action is appropriate."

Photo: by Alexander Raths via Shutterstock

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.