Rittman and Norwayne students got a glimpse into a real-life drug case through a mock trial with the intent on driving home the message actions have consequences, sometimes deadly ones.
The scenario laid out by Wayne County Prosecutor Dan Lutz and witness Donald Hall, director of the Medway Drug Enforcement Agency, was one in which a student was sold and given two pills, believed to be oxycodone, by a friend. The student ended up dying. It was later discovered the pills were not prescription medicine, but actually pure heroin pressed into pill form.
Lutz argued his case before Wayne County Municipal Court Judge Timothy VanSickle. Attorney David Knowlton defended "Mike Jones," played by Rittman junior Cade Cook.
In the trial, Lutz asked VanSickle to give the defendant life in prison for trafficking in drugs, corrupting a person with drugs and reckless homicide, arguing the mere fact Jones sold and gave drugs that were illegal for him to have in his possession was reckless.
Knowlton said his client was not contesting the corruption and trafficking charges, however, he did not think he was guilty of reckless homicide because no one knew the pills were actually heroin, not even the Medway director.
When VanSickle delivered the verdict from this mock bench trial, he ruled the defendant was indeed reckless for selling the drugs. Therefore, he was guilty of all three charges.
Looking at Jones, played by Cook, VanSickle said he went from a law-abiding citizen to a convicted felon in a relatively short period of time, and for what? Twenty dollars. That is how much he sold the drugs for to a friend.
A life was lost, and the victim would never be able to contribute to society again, VanSickle said. Drugs are a very greedy substance. They will take away a person's money, family, relationships, health, freedom, dignity and life. "That is the bargain when you do drugs," he added.
After the remarks, Knowlton and the defendant made their way back to their seats at the table. However, before Jones could sit down, Capt. Doug Hunter of the Sheriff's Office slapped handcuffs on the convicted felon and escorted him out of the "courtroom." The nearly 230 students in the gym watching the mock trial broke out in applause.
Following the close of the trial, VanSickle said the facts of the case were very real. It was based on a drug arrest involving Medway. "Cases like this unfold every week in Wayne County," he said.
Wanting the students to consider the magnitude of their decisions, VanSickle asked them to consider one question: How much do you trust your drug dealer?
"I've seen these drug dealers, and I've looked them in the eyes," VanSickle said. "They don't care about you; they care about the next sale."
Lt. Rob Gable, commander of the State Highway Patrol's Cleveland Metro Post and president of the Rittman SALT group, pointed out to the students, what they didn't see at the trial was any family members.
The victim's family would never get to see him again, and their lives are forever changed. The same thing with the defendant's family; their lives are changed forever, too.
"We don't want this to play out in our communities," Gable said.
"Today was yet another effort to educate our young adults on the dangers of illegal drugs," Hunter said. "I cannot say enough about the cooperation of the Rittman and Norwayne school leadership when it comes to educating the students on this topic. Both schools have done assemblies during the year that included guest speakers on the topic of addiction.
"We often hear of addiction being a disease, but addiction is not something you will catch by shaking hands or off the toilet seat. Those that are addicted start with making a decision to use a single dose of an addicting substance. The focus of the SALT coalition is to educate on the dangers of drugs, alcohol and tobacco."
Cook said he had no idea he was going to be handcuffed. He wasn't scared, but the ordeal was confusing. "It was a weird feeling," he said.
Norwayne senior Wyatt Wyckoff said it was nice "just seeing them do what they do and go at it," referencing Lutz, VanSickle and Knowlton. The take home message was "not to do any of that stuff."
Rittman senior Jacob Stuart thought it was a realistic presentation, and there was a lot of things to think about.
The event came about through the efforts of Norwayne SALT, Tammy Tomassetti said. She had attended Rittman SALT meetings and met with Norwayne High School Principal Doug Zimmerly to start a similar organization to help steer educate students about the consequences of substance abuse.
Rittman High School Principal Nick Evans said the students from the two districts often see other at athletic competitions, and it was nice they could come together for an academic purpose.
"I hope (the students) will never want to experience this," Evans said.
"This was a great venture," Zimmerly said. "I appreciate the cooperation with Rittman, local law enforcement and the courts. It takes a lot of planning behind the scenes."
Reporter Bobby Warren can be reached at 330-287-1639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He is @BobbyWarrenTDR on Twitter.