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Teen in high school app threat case faces sentencing

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — Is Jacob Michael Young a terrorist or a naive teenager whose impulsive act could dog him for the rest of his life?

That’s the question that may be addressed Wednesday when the 17-year-old from Ortonville appears before Oakland Circuit Judge Wendy Potts for sentencing on making a false threat of terrorism and use of the Internet to commit a crime last year. The offenses are felonies, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Under an agreement, Young pleaded guilty in January to both charges with the preliminary sentence evaluation that he would be placed on Holmes Youthful Trainee Act status, reserved for young, first-time, nonviolent offenders. Under the agreement, in the event that a jail sentence was imposed, it would not exceed six months.

But earlier in March, after a presentence recommendation from the probation department that minimum sentencing guidelines for such crimes fall between 24-40 months, Potts said she could not follow the plea agreement and adjourned the sentencing, according to the court record. She gave Young the opportunity to review his plea before sentencing.

“There are still several options,” said Deanna Kelley, Young’s attorney, who noted when a defendant is assigned Holmes status it is technically not a conviction and therefore there is no sentence, so normal state sentencing guidelines don’t apply.

“The judge can follow the plea agreement or not,” Kelley said. “She could assign him to (Holmes Youthful Trainee Act), which we hope, and to probation. And if she sentences him outside of the original plea agreement, he can withdraw the plea and we can go to trial.

“It’s all a lot for Jacob to be considering right now.”

Student had a good reputation

Kelley cited Young’s reputation of being anti-gun, anti-violence and anti-bullying as additional reasons for consideration and in sharp contrast with terrorists.

“While charged with two extremely serious crimes, Jacob’s actions do not fit the typical terrorism case,” Kelley wrote Potts.

“Terrorism is the opposite of everything which Jacob Young stands for,” Kelley wrote, noting terrorism is defined as “violent acts intended to create fear.”

She wrote that it carries images of “Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (the Boston Bomber) or those involved in the 911 attack on the United States.” She noted “Jacob’s bi-racial background causes many to assume he is of Middle Eastern background, it is not a stretch of the imagination to see how the association with the word “terrorist” will have a crushing impact on his future.

‘Keen sense of social justice’

From all accounts, the Brandon Township senior was making all the right moves up to Dec. 8. He was carrying a 3.4 grade point average in school and holding down a part-time job at a pizzeria. His friends and schoolmates viewed him as creative and passionate, and one teacher described Young as a promising student with a “keen sense of social justice.”

But it was Young’s inappropriate use of social media — in the form of the After School app — that changed everything.

Disturbed by racist comments and bullying posts he had viewed on the app, Young — according to Kelley — was frustrated adults “weren’t doing anything to take it down.” So Young came up with a plan to write up anonymous posts complete with photos of someone holding a rifle threatening a Columbine-type event at the school, and advised students to stay home for their own safety.

According to court records, within 20 minutes of posting the threats, Young realized his mistake and tried to get back on the app to delete his posts, but was unable to do so.

The next morning — as advised — dozens of students stayed home. Oakland County Sheriff’s deputies were called to the school for increased security as officials tried to determine whether the threats were credible.

Later that day, investigators traced the postings to Young. When confronted, he agreed to cooperate and be interviewed. The posted threats, he later admitted, were never to be carried out but were designed to get the app creator in trouble and shut the site down.

“It should be noted that Jacob’s only intent was to stand up for those who were being bullied,” Kelley wrote. “As is typical for a teenage boy, he failed to predict the results of his actions and now the judicial consequences on Jacob will be life-altering.”

Kelley hired a licensed psychologist, Carol J. Schwartz, who said Young’s history and testing “do not indicate violent acting out.” Kelley said Young has been targeted by bullies because he is bi-racial.

After the incident, Young was expelled from the Brandon school district.

Defense seeks probation

Kelley wants Young assigned under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act to probation of not more than three years and all other conditions determined reasonable to Potts. After completing all conditions, the criminal record of those on Holmes are never placed on public record.

There are precedents for keeping young offenders with similar convictions out of jail, Kelley wrote, citing two cases outside Oakland County.

In one, a Flushing High student who posted a gun threat was charged with the misdemeanor of malicious use of a telecommunication service. He was ordered to turn over his cellphone, fined $125 and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.

In another case, a 17-year-old Freeland High School student charged with using a computer to commit a crime after posting threats was assigned to Holmes status with the condition of no internet use.

“Sending a teenager to jail or prison for something they never planned to do seems rather harsh,” Kelley said.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319