Juvenile Justice Concerns After Violent Federal Hill Attack

BALTIMORE (WJZ)– The juvenile justice system is drawing scrutiny after a string of violent assaults from Northwest Baltimore to downtown. Baltimore City police say they repeatedly arrest the same teenagers for violent acts, and they get little punishment from the courts.

One of the victims is a woman who says she was grabbed, dragged to the ground and beaten with boards on Halloween night in Federal Hill just off Fort Avenue.

Her boyfriend Jeff Brown asked that WJZ not use her name.

“Once they had her, someone said ‘Go!’ They just went in with boards. She tried to fight them off, went to the ground, and they continued hitting her,” Brown said.

His girlfriend may require plastic surgery because her knees were so badly injured. She also suffered a broken eye socket and broken nose.

Brown tells WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren he plans to fight for tougher penalties in violent cases involving juveniles.

“They need to know there are consequences for these actions, and then maybe they won’t do it. As long as they think there will be no consequences, they’ll just continue.”

Police have arrested four people in the attack– two boys and two girls. Brown said he’s never felt unsafe in Federal Hill, and the attack came as a shock.

“Judges have a lot of discretion on these matters. It doesn’t seem judges’ discretion is in accordance with what the people on the street think.”

Maryland law mandates 16- and 17-year-old offenders first head to adult court for certain violent crimes, but police say judges frequently kick the cases back down to the juvenile system where penalties are lighter and there’s less public scrutiny.

Hellgren asked Brown whether there’s a fear the juveniles arrested in the attack will be back out again.

“Given past history, that’s likely to happen,” he said.

Commissioner Kevin Davis said when announcing those arrests this week that “lawmakers need to strengthen the consequences for detention and lower the threshold for detention.”

The Department of Juvenile Services declined an interview with WJZ, but did release this statement:

“The Department of Juvenile Services is responsible for assessing the needs of and providing services for youth involved in the juvenile justice system – a responsibility we take very seriously. We are working closely with the city and law enforcement and believe that all options should be on the table to address youth violence in Baltimore, that public safety is increased, and that youth are held accountable.”

Dr. Ted Sutton has been working with young people in Baltimore for years, after turning his own life around.

“We can’t lock our way out of this problem,” Dr. Sutton says. “If they were arrested the first time, what was put in place? If they were arrested a second time, what as put in place that is different? At some point, you can’t keep doing the exact same thing and expecting a different result.”

He says many efforts to reach troubled youth are ineffective.

“When you take away hope from people, you make the perfect criminal, and that is someone with nothing to lose.” He feels the system “is broken on different levels.”

Sutton says the right people with knowledge of the streets need to be put in place to stem the violence.

“I need to get to that young man who’s in that basement, rolling that blunt, playing Grand Theft Auto where you get points for how many people you carjack–and has a friend who’s shining up a .357. That’s who I need to get to because when beef kicks off in the streets, they’re going to call him.”

Overall juvenile arrests are down in the city compared to last year, but juvenile arrests for felony assault are up 20 percent.

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