Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said the DJJ has 'no teeth in it.'
After being arrested on accusation of robbery for forcefully taking a girl's backpack, a 13-year-old boy was immediately released back to his parents by the Department of Juvenile Justice, a decision that irked Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly.
“The juvenile justice system in the state of Florida has absolutely no teeth in it,” Staly said. “And that’s why we see the same kids over and over and over doing the same crimes. … It’s just a revolving door.”
The incident came to deputies' attention when 25-year-old Vernon Lamonde called to report that he had heard a female yelling for help near Pine Lake Apartments, which is down the road from Indian Trails Middle School. Lamonde said he saw a young boy on top of the girl and holding her in a "choke hold." Lamonde then pulled the boy off her.
The victim, whose name was redacted from the report, told deputies she was walking through the parking lot at Pine Lake Apartments toward the bus stop when she saw the boy following her. She told the boy he was scaring her, and a few moments later, he asked her where she went to school, according to the report. It was then that he pulled her to the ground, held her down and removed her backpack. The victim told deputies the boy did not strike her.
The boy fled, dropped the backpack, and was eventually located by deputies at Indian Trails Middle School, located at 5505 Belle Terre Parkway. He was arrested and charged with "robbery by sudden snatching," a third-degree felony. The suspect was taken to the Flagler County Inmate Facility and then turned over to the Department of Juvenile Justice in Daytona Beach. The DJJ released him to his parents.
Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly expressed disappointment in the DJJ’s decision to release the boy.
“When you talk to these adult defenders, they will tell you that the system was a joke and what they really needed was some penalties, and maybe they would have turned their life around,” Staly said.
Although the DJJ did not release information about the boy’s release, Heather DiGiacomo, the director of communications for the DJJ, said the decision to release is made solely by using a scoring system: the Juvenile Detention Risk Assessment.
“The instrument is required by Florida Statutes,” DiGiacomo said. “It’s not a staff person determining at pure discretion whether or not the kid needs to be held in detention.”
In adult cases, defendants have the opportunity to bond out following a first appearance in court, criminal defense attorney Joshua Davis said. For juveniles, however, bonds are not available. Instead, a juvenile will only be accepted by the DJJ if his or her crime reaches a certain score. Things that are factored into scoring include the seriousness of the crime, if the suspect was on probation and if the suspect had prior charges.
Davis said the best chance at ensuring the boy would be held would have been for deputies to add more charges to increase the score.
“If you score enough points, they will hold you automatically for 33 days. If you don’t make the score, you’re let out immediately.” Davis said.
Editor's Note: The Associated Press, which is the guide used by the Palm Coast Observer for style and news principles, generally does not identify juveniles (under 18) who are accused of crimes — with special exceptions. The boy's name was revealed in the media release, and Florida Statutes allow the release of a juvenile's name in felony cases. However, the name was omitted from this story because of how young the boy is and because of the seriousness of the crime.