Marine booted from SIU for discharging handgun

Marine+booted+from+SIU+for+discharging+handgun

By Bill Lukitsch, @Bill_LukitschDE

An SIU student was forced out of the university and banned from campus for actions he says were in self-defense. 

John McGrath, a 26-year-old junior from Quincy, is a decorated combat veteran who served in the Marines before coming to SIU for his bachelor’s degree. He received honors for a campaign in Afghanistan and service in the global war on terrorism since he enlisted in 2010. 

The plan was to get a degree in accounting and minor in aviation, McGrath said. But all of that came to a halt following a shooting incident that took place in front of Saluki Apartments two months ago. 

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“I lost everything,” McGrath said.

Police responded to multiple reports of shots fired about 8:45 p.m. Feb. 2 in the 400 block of South Wall Street. McGrath was arrested on multiple charges along with Michael Wooley, 33, of Carbondale. No one was injured in the incident.

It all started in his apartment, McGrath said, when Wooley came by to sell some marijuana. McGrath’s personal firearm, a Smith and Wesson .38 with a clip on the right side that attaches to his belt, was probably sitting on the couch when he left Wooley alone in his living room for about five minutes, he said.

They set out on foot together so McGrath could get cash and cigarettes, he said, and the two were walking back from Circle K gas station at 511 E. Walnut St. when he saw the gun in Wooley’s back pocket.

“I immediately went for my firearm,” McGrath said. “The first initial fear for my life came in when both of our hands were on my gun.”

Both men gripped the gun and started fighting, McGrath said, during which McGrath obtained it. He would later tell police he fired three shots in the air to alert them of what was happening.

The police report from that evening shows McGrath and Wooley surrendered willfully and peacefully. 

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“I got thrown in jail [and] treated like a criminal,” McGrath said.

McGrath told police he knew Wooley from a previous occasion during which he purchased marijuana from the Carbondale man, according to a police report obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Police reported about 5 grams of marijuana were found in McGrath’s apartment, and he was subsequently charged with possession. Officers also noted McGrath was visibly intoxicated at the time.

Wooley was charged with unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and possession of narcotics, according to police. His statements were omitted from the report per request from the Jackson County State’s Attorney, according to a letter from the Carbondale Police Department, because his case has not yet gone to trial. 

While in Jackson County Jail, McGrath had a single visitor come see him two days after the arrest.

It was an SIU police officer.

A report from the Department of Public Safety showed an SIU police officer hand delivered a letter to McGrath on Feb. 4 to inform him that he was banned from SIU property and participating in any university events.

“He had a smile on his face, so I thought I was going to get good news,” McGrath said. “I just couldn’t believe he did that like that.”

Lori Stettler, interim vice chancellor for student affairs, could not comment on specific cases but said the university typically takes immediate actions when a student is charged with a crime to ensure repeat offenses do not occur on campus.

“We do not wait for a civil or a criminal proceeding to move forward because of the safety of our students,” Stettler said.

Court records show all charges against McGrath were reduced to a single, low-level misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct on Feb. 19. Evidence used in the state’s amended complaint against McGrath included DVD footage from Circle K and a five-page supplemental narrative report from police.

The evidence presented would have corroborated his story and led to the reduced charges, but the damage was already done, McGrath said.

He spent a week on E Block in Jackson County Jail. It cost him $5,000 to bond out — money that was set aside for living expenses — and his GI Bill was suspended as a result of withdrawing from classes, McGrath said.

McGrath paid $1,100 in fines and fees for the ordeal, according to Jackson County Court records.

After getting out of jail, he appealed the university’s sanctions and asked for the case to be reconsidered because of the circumstances. But the rulings made in local courts do not influence the adjudication or appeal processes of the university.

“We use a different standard of evidence, so they don’t necessarily overlap,” said Chad Trisler, director of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

McGrath said he thinks the outcome is a win considering the other ways it could have gone. He hasn’t received a final determination from the university regarding academic sanctions, but after everything that’s happened, he said it’s not likely he will return to SIUC.

“Nobody even asked me a question,” he said. “I was treated with complete disrespect the whole way and that’s probably the thing that aggravates me the most about this entire thing.”

Bill Lukitsch can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3329.

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