Douglas County official says fatal shooting of teen underscores youth violence crisis

As the OPD Gang Unit investigates a mass shooting that killed a teen Sunday, Douglas County officials say the youth violence is getting increasingly worse.
Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 10:19 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Douglas County Attorney’s Office is recognizing a trend when it comes to crime.

“We’re down this year in homicides, which is a great thing, but it doesn’t change the fact that the perpetrators as well as the victims are younger and younger,” said Chief Deputy County Attorney Brenda Beadle.

The victim killed in Sunday’s shooting, La’Marintae Swift, was just 16 years old.

Swift was a junior at Burke High School.

At the time of his death, Swift was under court-ordered supervision. Probation required him to wear a GPS ankle monitor following a juvenile gun charge from last year.

Swift was also required to participate in gang intervention services, as well as complete a domestic violence course, according to court documents.

While it’s impossible to know what exactly led up to Swift’s death, officials say this is part of their concern with the trend in young victims and offenders.

“That is something that needs to be addressed because that’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing individuals on ankle monitors cutting the monitors or not caring if they’re on,” she said. “We try to do as much as we can to not have to detain a kid, so using ankle monitors, having them on probation, that kind of thing is used, but when those things aren’t working, we have to take it a step higher, we have to go further, and if it means detaining a child then that’s what it has to be.”

Right now, Beadle said the biggest setbacks from detaining young offenders are available facilities and available staffing.

“We need to sit down and figure out that in between,” she said. “If they’re not going to be detained, we need something else that will help keep them safe.”

Sometimes, Beadle says, Nebraska law can get in the way when it comes to violent juvenile offenders.

“Currently if you commit a murder and you’re 13, you go to juvenile court regardless. And we’ve had probably three or four of those in the last two years, so they’re getting younger.”

Another issue created by the uptick in youth violence is placing them since they can’t be held on bond.

“If we have somebody that’s very violent and they go to juvenile court, there’s a lot of placements here in Omaha that won’t take a juvenile that’s a gang member with a homicide charge,” she said. “So we run out of options, we’re transferring kids to very expensive out-of-state placements. We either need to get placements here that can address some of those issues, we need to expand the age where they can take accountability and responsibility as an adult when they commit things like a murder.”

Beadle has been working for several years to change legislation as the increase in violence involving young teens continues to rise.

Currently, authorities can’t detain a child, no matter the crime, if they’re younger than 13.

“We have a kid who just last week shot a woman in a robbery, she survived thankfully, but that child was 12 years old and had a gun and chose to shoot this woman, and he can’t even be detained in the youth center because he’s 12,” Beadle said. “So, some of those things we’d like the law to change to at least allow for the juvenile court judges to review that, have what’s akin to a bond hearing, have a detention hearing so a judge can hear from both sides about all of the issues that might be going on in the home and where the best placement would be.”

She’s also been working with senators to change the law to allow those at 13 years old to be charged as adults if the crime warrants it.

“We’ve had a number of 13-year-olds involved in homicides, charged with a murder that had to go to juvenile court because they’re too young to be charged as adults, we have had young individuals, 13 to 16, be the victims of murders and gang violence”

Beadle tells 6 News recent conversations have been had between various agencies and organizations to identify what Omaha needs to curb the youth violence issue, and more importantly, what services will be effective.

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated an incorrect name for the victim. 6 News regrets the error.