Omaha Police, prosecutors looking to better juvenile detention outcomes

Published: Dec. 23, 2020 at 5:47 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Police and prosecutors say lawmakers have tied their hands when it comes to dealing with young offenders.

Last month, Bishop John Ford found himself being threatened by three youngsters in North Omaha. A 12-year-old had a pocketknife. They wanted the pastor’s money as they confronted him outside the church.

“I had to stand my ground. I wasn’t giving them nothing,” Ford said.

It turns out, the 12-year-old was no stranger to Omaha Police or Douglas County prosecutors.

“Not just frustrating, but scary,” Chief Deputy Douglas County Attorney Brenda Beadle said. “We don’t have the ability to put him in a safe place where even his parents couldn’t control him. Boys Town couldn’t control him. We tried lots of resources on him.”

The 12-year-old, whom 6 News isn’t identifying him because of his age, ran from Boys Town and ran from home.

Prosecutors say his case is what’s wrong with the system, an example of how it’s getting harder and harder to detain young people. In the juvenile file for this 12-year-old:

  • More than a year ago, when he was 11 years old, there are arrests for assault and theft.
  • A few months later: felony theft, reckless driving, and leaving the scene.
  • Three weeks later: obstruction.
  • From criminal mischief and felony theft in May to assault in June.

And then, what investigators call a spiral.

  • Three separate incidents in September: from felony burglary to terroristic threats, to using someone else’s car and crashing it into a pregnant woman and injuring her.
  • And finally, the attempted robbery of the pastor last month.

The 12-year-old would routinely remove his ankle bracelet, according to court records.

“He would inevitably run from a place because he could — and have another law violation. He gets picked up again and goes home because we couldn’t lock him up; get out and run again, where there are more victims involved,” Beadle said.

Aubrey Mancuso, executive director of Voices for Children in Nebraska, understands there are challenges with finding space in private placements, but points to the fact that the juvenile system is about rehabilitation, not punishment.

“We know detention, by and large, isn’t an effective intervention. So we should only be using it in cases that are absolutely necessary,” Mancuso said.

And they’re worried there will be more victims if the system keeps handcuffing their judgment calls.

Beadle said she understands and agrees that the goal with young offenders is to keep them out of detention, but says there has to be more discretion in these types of cases.

Prosecutors say the case of the 12-year-old isn’t stand-alone.

“This isn’t the only case; we have a number of them.”

This 12-year-old is now getting mental-health treatment at an out-of-state facility more than a year after his first charges.

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