Letter From DC Lawyers for Youth: “Youth wrongfully charged in Southeast shootings”

Photo by PoPville flickr user AWard Tour

Youth wrongfully charged in Southeast shootings
rash judgment about 14 year-old and juvenile justice agency led
to escalated tensions rather than responsible dialogue


In light of new information clearing the wrongfully accused 14 year-old of any connection to the tragic shooting in Southeast D.C., experts and advocates condemn hasty judgments which have misdirected attention to the youth and escalated tensions about the juvenile justice system in the city. The three other individuals allegedly involved in the shootings are all adults. The advocates also condemn the public disclosure of the young person’s name, which brazenly ignores the District’s confidentiality laws which prohibit the identification of court-involved youth.

“While this tragedy rightly required swift response, ignoring the presumption of innocence and the myopic focus on a youth rather than the multiple shooters was unacceptable and irresponsible,” says Daniel Okonkwo, executive director of DC Lawyers for Youth (DCLY), an advocacy group focusing on juvenile justice reform in the city. “Rather than a reasoned exploration of public safety, confidentiality laws were ignored when the young person was publicly accused of a crime he didn’t commit. We need to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Following the March 30 shootings in Southeast Washington, a 14 year-old was arrested and charged with being the driver of the car involved in the drive-by shooting. But on April 22, the Office of the Attorney General dismissed all 41 charges against the youth after learning that he had no involvement in the planning or execution of the incident. Like many other states, the District of Columbia prohibits the publication of the names of youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Media outlets, policy makers and community members disclosed the name of the 14 year-old youth, who has been cleared of all connection to the shootings.

“The inappropriate focus on the youth has vilified the juvenile justice system and distracted us from important issues relevant to the shooting, like the availability of automatic assault weapons and more coordinated approaches to public safety,” says Okonkwo. “We’ve been talking about derailing juvenile justice reforms that have helped reduce juvenile crime and improved conditions of confinement, rather than talking about ways to prevent violence in our most vulnerable communities. It’s time to get back on track.”

Recent hearings focused on the role of the Department of Youth and Rehabilitative Services (DYRS), although all of the individuals now believed to be associated with the violence are adults. DYRS is nationally recognized for its juvenile justice reforms, which have contributed to more serious youth offenders being confined for longer periods of time and a drop in juvenile re-offense rates.

DCLY supports continued juvenile justice reforms based on experience, research, data-analysis, and a review of best-practices. To further strengthen juvenile justice and crime prevention efforts in the city, DCLY commended Councilmembers Jim Graham, Tommy Wells, and Phil Mendelson for calling for the creation of a Commission on Juvenile Justice Reform and urged them to charge ahead with the Commission’s creation despite the fact that no youth was known to be involved in the planning or execution of the March 30 shootings.

“While DYRS has made incredible strides in improving safety for our youth and community, more can be done,” said Eduardo Ferrer, DCLY’s Chief Operating Officer. “The Commission on Juvenile Justice Reform proposed by Councilmembers Graham, Wells, and Mendelson, if implemented correctly, will be a great vehicle for exploring how we can improve current reforms and implement others. This idea should not be scrapped just because those currently charged with the March 30 shooting were all adults. The time to act is now.”

DC Lawyers for Youth is a local non-profit dedicated to improving the D.C. juvenile justice system through advocacy, direct service, and the dissemination of information. By bridging the worlds of ideas and action, DCLY empowers and engages the District’s legal community and youth to effect positive change.

14 Comment

  • ok so the kid wasn’t involved, got it. but didn’t he still have something like 9 prior arrests/charges? this shouldn’t overshadow that major issues remain with violent and other criminal activities by juveniles in the district, not to mention serious problems with the juvenile justice system.

  • And he was on the lam when picked up.

    But really, it’s this line that I find the most appalling/offensive: “DYRS is nationally recognized for its juvenile justice reforms, which have contributed to more serious youth offenders being confined for longer periods of time and a drop in juvenile re-offense rates.”

    I’d like to have a few words with that national recognition…

  • Today’s front-page Post article noted its policy of not releasing the names of arrested juveniles, and distinguished this from the policy of another DC paper that examined this shooting and released the kid’s name.

    Hopefully, as this post mentions, this whole snafu will not affect the positive reforms that have been carried out at DYRS over the last few years.

  • In retrospect, the attention directed to this youth with respect to his alleged involvement in this shooting was certainly misdirected. But the attention directed to him with respect to his prior acts and DYRS’ supervision over him was certainly not misdirected. Assuming that the published information is correct (and I assume that if it were not correct, this group would be correcting the record), this youth was on his third escape from DYRS custody when he was apprehended. Had police not stumbled upon him in their search for an accomplice to a murder and mistakenly identified him as that accomplice, there is no reason to believe he would not still be on the streets. It’s unfortunate that he was wrongfully accused of 41 felonies, but it is also unfortunate that it took a case of mistaken identity for the City to regain custody of this kid – who had reportedly racked up 9 convictions between the ages of 9 and 14. (I have no idea what the convictions were for but the volume alone is troubling enough.)
    I would be very interested in reading about the national recognition that DYRS has received for its work. Maybe all of the criticism being directed at the agency is unfounded. If anyone has this information, they should post it.

    • Agreed, its great this particular boy was exonerated but it doesn’t change the fact that he has a lengthy ongoing record and was absconded at the time of his arrest. Also, his big brothers (Orlando and Sanquan Carter) and the other guy charged (Nathaniel Simms) have extensive DYRS records in addition to their burgeoning adult criminal records. I live around the corner from where a 15 year old was recently killed and am dealing with the remainder of the offending crew. I will attest that there are serious problems with how these kids are handled, they are essentially released back into the community and all info on their activities covered up. This helps no one. Lets hope for reform in the system but make sure that reform includes some measure of community safety, rather than the comfort and privacy of the offenders. I’ll readily agree that not all kids are bad, but I’ll require that we recognize they’re not all good either. I was a bad kid myself, and feel I have some expertise in the issue…

  • As Okonkwo burbles on about how “The inappropriate focus on the youth has vilified the juvenile justice system and distracted us from important issues relevant to the shooting”, he utterly fails to mention any kind of focus, appropriate or otherwise, on the fact that this kid was a repeat offender, on the lam, or the important issue of making sure proven sociopaths, even little ones, be kept away from the rest of us. Where was his organization on the previous 8 prior offenses? Just waiting for one juicy enough to get their name in the paper? Or keeping mum because they knew the kid was guilty?

  • As requested, here is information on some of the national recognition given to DYRS as a result of their reform efforts. The reform has accomplished a good amount thus far. DYRS’s predecessor organization had serious issues which resulted in the system being placed under a consent decree. Obviously, the reform still needs time to happen and is not yet perfect, but it is definitely headed in the right direction.

    While this is a little outdated, here is some information on the reduction in recidivism rates published by DYRS: http://dyrs.dc.gov/dyrs/release/16431/Recidivism.pdf

    Also, here is information relating to the national recognition they have received:

    “Positive Youth Development
    City of Washington, District of Columbia
    The District of Columbia’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services is becoming the
    nation’s first juvenile justice agency based on the tenets of Positive Youth Development,
    an effort to meet the needs of young people by building their competencies and enabling
    them to become successful adults.”

    (Ash Institute Press Release): http://www.nyc.gov/html/prob/downloads/pdf/04152008_top50_final.pdf

  • Wouldn’t this normally have been handled by a grand jury and not the mayor’s attorney?

    Makes me wonder if the kid signed in, then left to participate in crime spree, and then fled back to his preplanned safe alibi.

    Anyone have any idea what the custody rate per 100,000 adolescents is in DC? Clearly the homicide rate is above the national average. What about the child homicide rate in Anacostia versus the rest of the nation?

    • Juvenile stuff is handled much differently in DC, the AG (Nickles) office handles it all from point of arrest onwards. The case is presented to “normal” judges (ie we don’t have a juvenile judges) and, as reported lately, the offender is remanded to Court Social Services if given probation, or DYRS if found guilty. Given that the kid was initially arrested in the heat of the crime, he was basically dropped on AG after arrest. In other cases, MPD and AG work together before they make an arrest to determine whether their just cause. Grand juries, as far as I know, never come into play for juvenile issues.

    • From that DYRS doc linked above:

      “Today, DYRS serves approximately 650 committed youth. An average of 250 youth are newly committed to DYRS per year, although the actual annual new commitment number has varied substantially from year to year (Figure1). The decision to commit a youth to DYRS jurisdiction is made by a DC Superior Court judge.”

      So, in 2008 there were 650 committed youth, other “delinquent” youth would include those on probation within the CSS, which according to their document was 2,476 in 2008 (http://tiny.cc/2j5sf). So, that’s about 3000 even for 2008, and US Census tells us that 18.9% of DC residents were under 18 in 2009, which comes to about 113,335.

      Not sure how to compare with other places and just got my math fix 🙂

    • So, juvenile arrests were up from 2008-2009 for violent offenses. Based on data for 2008-2009, 614 in 2008 and 644 in 2009, including juvenile arrests for carrying pistol, ammunition, homicide, rape, armed robbery, assault with deadly weapon, unregistered firearm. I see no juvenile arrests for felony murder in 2009 but 3 in 2008.

      Does not include assaults in menacing manner, prostitution, craps, theft, metro misconduct, unauthorized use of vehicle, or my favorite…adultery/bigamy/incest/seduction.


      • From Jim Graham’s recent WaPo editorial…

        “Meanwhile, there are 1,800 youths on CSS probation in the city. In other words, the federal courts, and not the District, have responsibility for 80 percent of young offenders. Not enough is known about these young people.”

        So the blueprint called for a Commission more than a year ago, and the Council and Mayor are just moving on it now?

  • This post is nonsense. Yes, this juvenile was exonerated (though he obviously had other issues, given what’s known about his record and his multiple escapes). But the others who still face charges had long juvenile records — and the juvenile system utterly failed to do anything to “rehabilitate” them. The DYRS director should be forced to go to the funeral of every person who dies because of a DYRS-supervised youth.

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