It's two thirty in the morning...there are three marked cars around the trailer, four patrolmen and a patrol Sergeant.
My unmarked is in the driveway of the trailer, sitting in the passenger seat is a fifteen year old black kid who I believe has just robbed at gunpoint a gas station up the road. Right now I'm just chit chatting with him, trying to get a feel for who he is and how I can angle in and build some rapport. He keeps looking at me, finally he says You look familiar, I know you." He looks vaguely familiar to me too but after a while all the faces sort of run together. I ask him where he used to live and he gives me an address that immediately sets a two year old memory ablaze.
June 2005...I''m standing in the driveway of a rickety brick house in a terrible neighborhood. There is a chain link fence surrounding the property. Up by the house in a plastic lawn chair sits a twenty something black guy who refuses to make eye contact and looks like he'd rather be anywhere else. Next to my patrol car is a cavalier with a broken windshield, on the hood of the car sits a large cinder block and broken glass. A sixteen year old overweight black girl is angrily yelling at me that her younger brother threw the concrete block through the windshield and that this was the third time this year he had done the same thing.
I talk to her thirteen year old brother who says "Yeah , I threw that brick through her window. I did it the other two times too."
"Why did you do that?" I ask.
"Cause she made me mad. She put my game in her car."
He goes on to tell me that he knows I can't do anything to him because he's a juvenile.
I ask him why he thinks that and he tells me that that's what the other cops told his grandma when they came out about him doing the same thing before.
I tell him that if his sister wants him charged I was going to charge him. He looked at me with disbelief. His sister told me that she wanted him charged.
The next day I call the sister to follow up and she has changed her mind. Grandma paid to have the windshield replaced and her brother "has been acting better." I close the case checking the refuse to cooperate box at the bottom of the investigative report. I hope she's right about him changing his ways.
The dim lights from my dashboard cast orange and green glows across our faces as I sit behind the steering wheel with my notepad and pen. We talk about the incident with the windshield for a few minutes and the last thing he says about it is that I've been the only officer to come close to charging him. He smiles through the whole conversation as if its a fond memory. I lean close to him as if we're sharing a secret and he mirrors my movement leaning close to me. "You know your grandma and sister saved your butt on that one. I was sitting in the juvenile justice parking lot getting ready to charge you when they changed my mind."
He just keeps smiling.
I notice he is very short and has a deep voice. Part of the description I got a few minutes ago of the hooded suspect from the clerks at the store that was robbed. I'd already watched the video and knew what clothes the suspect wore and what the gun looked like. I've already located and talked to a man the youngster tried to recruit to rob the store with him, I know the man refused and I know the boy then asked the man if he could borrow a gun to commit the robbery with.
I begin to question him about why he is outside so late on a school night and why is he so sweaty? Have you been jogging?
Outside the car the boy's now nineteen year old sister, whom he's been living with, is arguing with the patrol officers. I can't tell what they're saying but I'm sure it's a bunch of angry nothings trying to distract them from the task at hand. That's how this game is often played. Half assed attempts to divert attention from the investigation to some angry irrelevant bickering.
The boy tells me his sister is behind on the rent and they've been evicted. They have until tomorrow morning to be out. He says he's up and sweaty because he's been packing and carrying things to the dumpster.
Another witness has already told me that they had seen him throwing things in the trailer parks community dumpster and I've already searched it for the gun and clothing. I found neither.
"Do you or your sister have a gun in the house?" I ask him.
"So there is no gun in the house?"
"No." I suspect he's lying to me. Either that or he's thrown it in the woods while running away from the store after the robbery.
Finally I cut to the chase and flat out ask him if he had anything to do with the store up the road being robbed.
He denies having anything to do with it or even knowing it was robbed.
I ask him if he cares if we search his room. He thinks about it for a second and tells me that it would be o.k.. All I have to do now is convince the sister to let me search the trailer.
I thank the kid for his time and he goes back inside the trailer.
The sister has gotten inside her car hoping to leave the scene. I walk up to her drivers side window and talk to her before she can back out. I talk to her for nearly thirty minutes trying to convince her that she should let me search her trailer, but she refuses consent. I ask her why she won't let us search, suspecting there is probably dope in the house among other things, and she says "It's because her house is messy, and that, although I have been very nice to her, she didn't appreciate the way the other officers had talked to her." She tells me that if I want to come back in the morning she will let me search.
I tell her that that isn't a realistic possibility for me and that I am going to apply for a search warrant. She tells me that she is going to pick up her boyfriend, who I know and who is a real thug, and I tell her that is fine, knowing that when she gets back boyfriend will do something stupid and get himself locked up.
I make some calls and get the patrol sergeant and several deputies from his squad to post up around the residence to make sure no one goes in or out until I get back. Having never applied for a search warrant I call my Sergeant who is bleary eyed but meets me at the office. About an hour later we are back at the trailer search warrant in hand only to find that the sister has come back and picked up the suspect and they left "to go get something to eat" and hadn't come back. I suspect they are going to try and hide the boy at his grandmothers so I'm not too worried about it. I'm more concerned with the fact that they may have gone in and removed the evidence I'm looking for.
The front door is unlocked and we enter with the warrant announce our presence and our intention and begin to search. It doesn't take long before I find the gun and clothing worn by the suspect in the boys bedroom, along with a small amount of crack cocaine and some scales in another bedroom. I suspect the drugs belong to the sister's boyfriend. The sister comes back as we are finishing our search and gets into a brief argument with the patrol officers about the legalities of the search warrant. We finish up and let patrol clear the scene. we talk to the sister a bit and she tells us that she did take her brother to their grandmothers house. She calls him and asks if he will talk to us if we come over . He says he will. we pick the boy up and he agrees to ride with us to the office for an interview. After talking to him for about an hour he confesses to the whole thing. we then take him back home and drop him off. I go to Juvenile Justice and obtain a secure custody order on the boy and we go back to the house and arrest him.
The case comes up on the docket and I am sitting in the courtroom listening to other cases of juvenile banditry when the boys attorney waves a trial and pleas guilty. the boy had no remorse and acted as if committing the robbery was funny. The judge actually notices this and mentions it to the boy who just keeps smiling. She sets another court date for sentencing and says she is considering having him locked up rather than serving his time on juvenile probation, which he is already on. The states attorney leans over and in a whisper asks how long I think it will be before he violates his probation, and I just answer not long.
I sit ans listen to a few more cases involving unruly thirteen year olds, mostly boys, charged with everything from shoplifting to trying to strangle their mothers, and I observe how the system bends over backwards to give these wayward kids every chance. I watch as the judge orders half days at school rather than full days and gives the kids mentors and counselors. I counted four separate agencies represented in the courtroom, all there to offer services to these kids, who didn't bat an eye or seem to appreciate any of it.
I wondered as I sat there if we were actually helping any of these kids or rewarding bad behavior with attention and half school days instead of teaching accountability and assimilation into society.