Secretary Sam Abed blamed the courts on Wednesday for sending 16-year-old Dawnta Harris home earlier this month as he awaited sentencing for stealing a car, against recommendations from his staff.
“This shouldn’t have happened,” Abed said. “It’s preventable.”
Abed said Harris had fled home detention when police say he struck Officer Amy S. Caprio with a stolen Jeep Monday in Perry Hall. Police say Harris and three other youths were burglarizing homes in the area when Caprio arrived.
Political candidates began to weigh in on the case Wednesday. Jim Shea, a Democratic candidate for governor, said efforts to reform juvenile offenders were failing.
“Governor Hogan and Secretary Abed must answer questions as to how the system failed and how the state will reform its processes to ensure this tragedy is not repeated,” he said in a statement.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby sharply critized Abed. She said he was shirking responsibility for the fact that Harris was loose.
“This incident sheds light on an inherently broken juvenile justice system, which provides a recurring door for troubled youth to graduate to more severe crimes without the opportunity for appropriate rehabilitation,” she said.
Mosby declined to say whether her prosecutors recommended Harris be locked up. She noted juvenile records are protected under state privacy laws.
In April, Abed said, his staff recommended that a court order Harris held in a secure juvenile facility while he awaited sentencing for stealing a car. Juvenile services caseworkers warned that Harris was a risk to public safety, documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun show.
A Baltimore judge agreed on April 17, documents show, but a judge reversed the decision on May 10 and sent the teen to his apartment in West Baltimore’s Gilmor Homes public housing project with a monitoring bracelet. He was to remain on house arrest to await sentencing.
The Sun could not identify the judge. A spokesman for the courts declined to comment. Juvenile records are sealed from the public. So it remains unclear what caused the courts to send the teen home.
“It wasn’t the right decision,” Abed said. “We had a pattern of behavior here that was unacceptable.”
Harris left his home after four days, records obtained by The Sun show. Abed said his staff tried to call him and went looking for him at home and school. The teen didn’t resurface until Monday.
On Monday afternoon, Caprio was called to investigate a suspicious Jeep on Linwen Way in Perry Hall. A 911 caller had reported that three youths had left the Jeep and broken into a home, police said in charging documents.
Caprio came upon the Jeep and pursued the teen driver down the cul-de-sac, police say. She got out of her patrol car, drew her service weapon and ordered Harris out, police say. The encounter was captured on her body camera.