Baltimore judge closes courtroom to public to review juvenile record of teen charged with killing officer

State and city officials agreed 16-year-old Dawnta Harris shouldn’t have been on the streets last month when he allegedly hit a Baltimore County policewoman in a stolen Jeep.

They disagree, however, on who is to blame for his release.

Attorneys, public defenders and caseworkers appeared in juvenile court Friday to review what went wrong, and Baltimore Circuit Judge Robert Kershaw ordered the public and reporters to leave. The judge also issued a gag order: Those in the courtroom could not repeat what was discussed.

Kershaw’s order further shrouds the sequence of events that sent Harris home to West Baltimore, despite the teen’s history of arrests for stealing cars, skipping court dates, and breaking house arrest.

Harris is charged as an adult with murder in the death of Baltimore County Police officer Amy Caprio on May 21.

Before closing Friday’s hearing, Kershaw said such matters are routinely discussed in open court. But a public defender asked Kershaw to close the proceedings, citing the confidentiality of matters related to juveniles. Kershaw agreed and ordered the courtroom cleared.

A spokeswoman for the public defender’s office declined to comment.

Friday’s hearing was called to review previous hearings from the­ teen’s juvenile record. The teen had been found guilty of stealing a car and was awaiting sentencing, according to juvenile records.

Maryland Secretary of Juvenile Services Sam Abed said his staff sought April 17 to have the teen placed in a secure detention facility. But three weeks later, a magistrate reviewed the case and sent the teen home on house arrest with a monitoring bracelet.

Kershaw approved the magistrate’s order, according to court records.

Four days later, the teen left home.

His attorneys and caseworkers returned to court May 18 for an emergency hearing. The Department of Juvenile Services recommended the teen remain on house arrest at that hearing.

“It wasn’t the right decision,” Abed has said. “We had a pattern of behavior here that was unacceptable.”

Department officials have begun an investigation to determine how the erroneous recommendation was made.

Still, officials said the recommendation wasn’t even discussed by the court. They said debate that day centered on whether the teen had enough notice to even show up — not their recommendation.

A Department of Juvenile Services spokesman declined to comment.

Harris had fled home detention when he allegedly struck and killed Caprio with a stolen Jeep in Perry Hall. Police say Harris was waiting in the Jeep while three other teenagers were burglarizing homes in the neighborhood when Caprio arrived.

Caprio opened fire before Harris ran her over with the Jeep, police said. She was pronounced dead shortly after at an area hospital.

Caprio, 29, was the first Baltimore County police officer killed in the line of duty since 2013.

Harris’ defense attorney, Warren Brown, said the teen was scared when Caprio drew her gun and he was simply trying to drive away. The three other teens have also been charged with murder.

Their trials have not yet been scheduled in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

tprudente@baltsun.com

twitter.com/tim_prudente

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