Ex-Science Hill student pleads guilty to gun-at-school charge, gets probation

Becky Campbell • Oct 9, 2012 at 2:20 PM

A Johnson City teen kicked out of school his senior year after he took a gun to Science Hill High School last fall pleaded guilty to the charge Tuesday in Washington County Criminal Court .

Benjamin Schon Neis-Eldridge, 19, pleaded guilty to carrying a weapon on school property and simple possession of marijuana.

Neis-Eldridge said he had the gun with him that day — Nov. 29, 2011 — because he was going shooting with a friend after school.

Both convictions will be taken off his record once he successfully completes a year of probation.

It was his clean criminal background — as an adult — that allowed his attorney Russell Kloosterman and prosecutors to agree on diversion, but Judge Robert Cupp said he was “concerned” about the plea deal because of Neis-Eldridge’s juvenile record.

“If you don’t play by the rules I’m going to take this diversion away from you and put you in jail,” Cupp told the teen.

“If you play by the rules there’ll be no record of your charge. I’m not sure you can make it. You couldn’t make it 10 months on pretrial diversion out of juvenile court,” he said.

“On January 8 of last year, you caught an aggravated burglary and they let you plea to attempted burglary under pretrial diversion. As soon as you turn 18, you catch another charge. That’s unbelievable,” Cupp said during the hearing.

Neis-Eldridge told Cupp it was a dress code violation that caught the attention of school personnel.

“They didn’t know I had the gun. I had a coat on,” he said. Neis-Eldridge didn’t drive to school, so he had the gun with him. It was the trench coat he wore that day that caught the attention of school administrators.

Neis-Eldridge said he was approached by the school resource officer and asked to hand over the coat.

That’s when officials found the loaded .22-caliber handgun in the coat and more ammunition and a small amount of marijuana in his backpack.

Assistant District Attorney Erin McArdle said a police investigator followed up on Neis-Eldridge’s claim that he was going shooting after school and confirmed that his story was true.

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