The 15-year-old Robert Poole Middle School student whom prosecutors accused of sparking an attack on a city bus passenger in December was sentenced yesterday to a juvenile jail until a judge releases her or she turns 21.
In arguing to send Nakita McDaniels to a secure residential treatment facility, Baltimore prosecutors revealed that the student body vice president had twice before led group assaults on lone girls, one of which ended with the victim stabbed and losing consciousness.
McDaniels was "the person who could have led them to staying on the bus -- she was the vice president of the student government," Circuit Judge David W. Young said. "She chose to lead her troops in another direction.
"There are many types of leaders," the judge added. "There are [leaders] for positive and good, and there are leaders who choose to use their leadership abilities to do wrong. In my heart, based on my belief and my experience, the next person who argues with her may be a homicide victim."
Also yesterday, Young dismissed cases against two of the original nine teens accused in the assault that started over an empty seat aboard a bus in Hampden, spilled out into the street and left Sarah Kreager, 26, with two broken bones around her left eye.
Young ordered another youth, who had admitted her role in the attack before the monthlong trial, to complete the community service he had assigned her. He also chastised the Department of Juvenile Services for not providing her with all of the services he ordered.
Young ordered four other students to complete 50 hours of community service, 30 days of community detention, and violence prevention and mental health treatment.
"Each of them need immediate, intensive treatment and services in order to get them to understand what they did," prosecutor Janet Hankin said. "What I do find continually disturbing in this case is the apparent lack of remorse. ... Even if you take a look at what they said -- that it was self-defense -- they still appear to think that under those circumstances, that what they did isn't wrong."
The hearings cap a long and divisive case fraught with allegations of racism. Students involved accused Kreager's longtime partner, Troy Ennis, of provoking the attack by using a racial slur against McDaniels and ordering Kreager to spit on her. Kreager and Ennis are white. The students are black.
At the hearing, Young told McDaniels to move to the center of the courtroom and face him. Young, who is black and has served as a judge since 1985, told McDaniels that no more than three or four cases among the thousands he has presided over "reduced me to tears like this case."
"I just wonder what has gone so wrong, so wrong," he said. "In our families, in our community, in our churches, in our schools. It has been painful for me. ... I got literally dozens of phone calls. I have received e-mails. I've had people tell me that I'm only picking on these kids because they're black. That 'you'd know they did it if you've ever ridden a bus in the city.' I've had people come up to me on the street and had to walk away from them."
Kreager, who has three children and was homeless at the time of the attack, praised Young for his comments. "He couldn't have said it more perfectly," she said. "It's just sad ... the city has become this way. Hopefully, this says to children you're not just going to have a slap on your wrist."
McDaniels showed no emotion as Young spoke and chose not to say anything in court. The Sun does not usually name juveniles accused of crimes, but her name has been public since she filed countercharges in adult court against Kreager, which prosecutors did not pursue.
Crystal Green, McDaniels' guidance counselor, spoke in her defense and asked Young not to separate her from her family.
"I've known Nakita since 2006 when she entered Robert Poole," Green said. "Since then, I've had no problems with Nakita. ... Since she's been at Robert Poole, her grades have gone up. She's vice president of the student government association."
But Green said she did not know McDaniels when she committed the previous assaults. At the time of the Dec. 4 attack on the city bus, McDaniels was on probation with the juvenile court for second-degree assault. According to Delores Quick, a caseworker at the Department of Juvenile Services, McDaniels and her two sisters had "beat up," "stomped" and "cut" another girl with a knife for "talking about" them.
Quick said that McDaniels had completed a six-week anger management program and attended "Healthy Relationships" courses. Restitution to the victim was never paid.
At a previous school, she was suspended after a fight with a girl who "cracked slick," or insulted her. Quick said, however, that she wasn't aware of that incident. Prosecutors showed evidence of at least four school-based fights, from March 1999 to April 2005.
"Her temper flares," Hankin said. "She goes from zero to 60 in a matter of seconds. ... She says it herself. She tells the court medical evaluator, 'If I fight people, I really try to hurt someone.' She doesn't fight often, and this is according to the evaluator, but when she does, it's as though a switch turns on. She loses control."
Young agreed, saying that he has not "dealt with many people who I am convinced would kill. ... It does concern me that each of the serious assaults were group attacks on lone victims. Her anger is disproportionate to the situation."
Young also said that the testimony of Joyce King, who saw the students spill from the bus and continue the assault, weighed heavily in his decision. King lives at Chestnut Avenue and 33rd Street, where the bus -- on a special "school route" from Robert Poole -- stopped. King's daughter called 911 several times, describing the scene as a "riot."
"I actually wept when I heard the testimony of Mrs. King, when she said, 'That's not a dog. That's a person. You're going to kill her,'" he said. "But for Miss King, this case would have been far more tragic. I believe the pack mentality kicked in."
Of the nine students accused initially, four were found involved -- the juvenile equivalent of guilty -- of first- and second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and conspiracy in the attack on Kreager. They were also found involved in reckless endangerment in the attack on Ennis.
A fifth student was found involved for the reckless endangerment of Kreager and for second-degree assault and reckless endangerment against Ennis.
Cases against two were dropped yesterday, and the final case, which is also expected to be dropped, will be called at another time.
Attorneys for two of the students whose cases were dismissed announced yesterday that they intend to file a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the bus driver, the Maryland Transit Administration and the city school system for removing their clients from school and revoking their bus privileges without "a hearing or due process."
One of those attorneys, Jay Ortis, said that if public buses are acting as school buses, drivers shouldn't pick up other passengers: "You don't see yellow buses stopping to pick up citizens on the street."
Young said that his comments on racial tensions in Baltimore -- in levels of hatred that "scare" him -- applied to all of the students' cases.
"This case highlights for me the crying need for early intervention," he said. McDaniels "has needed help for a long time and not gotten it. On Dec. 4, caution went out the window, compassion went out the window, and reason went out the window. It's sad to me."
He concluded his statement by ordering the Department of Juvenile Services to provide McDaniels with individual psychiatric treatment by a psychiatrist, not a therapist and not in a group. Nothing less, he said, would do.
Sun reporter Jean Marbella contributed to this article.
Baltimore Circuit Judge David W. Young, sentencing 15-year-old Nakita McDaniels for attacking Sarah Kreager aboard a city bus:
"A house divided cannot stand and our community is divided, our country is divided. Nobody likes anybody. It scares me."
"The person who could have led them to staying on the bus - she was vice president of the student government. ... She chose to lead her troops in another direction. There are many types of leaders. There are [leaders] for positive and good, and there are leaders who choose to use their leadership abilities to do wrong."
"I just wonder what has gone so wrong, so wrong? In our families, in our community, in our churches, in our schools. It's been painful for me. I didn't get more than three hours' sleep for a couple of months. I didn't want this case."
"I got literally dozens of phone calls. ... I've had people tell me that I'm only picking on these kids because they're black. That 'you'd know they did it if you've ever ridden a bus in the city.' I've had people come up to me on the street and had to walk away from them."
"This case highlights for me the crying need for early intervention. [McDaniels] has needed help for a long time and not gotten it. On Dec. 4, caution went out the window, compassion went out the window, and reason went out the window. It's sad to me."