Three days before Dawnta Harris allegedly ran over and killed a Baltimore County police officer, juvenile caseworkers recommended house arrest for the 16-year-old as he awaited sentencing for car theft.
Now state officials are investigating that recommendation by the Department of Juvenile Services.
The West Baltimore teen had been convicted of stealing one car and accused of stealing three others in recent months, though two of the cases were dropped, according to court records obtained by The Baltimore Sun. The teen also missed court hearings and left an unsecure juvenile center in Montgomery County, officials said.
Jay Cleary, chief of staff for the Department of Juvenile Services, says Harris should not have been a candidate for house arrest after his most recent violations.
And yet a juvenile services report dated May 18, which was obtained by The Sun, recommends a judge keep the teen on house arrest with a monitoring bracelet.
The inspector general for juvenile services is investigating the report.
“We want to see what the purpose of the document was, how it was generated and why,” Cleary said.
Sam Abed, secretary of juvenile services, said his staff had sought in April to have the teen placed in a secure detention facility. But three weeks later, a judge reviewed the case and sent the teen home on house arrest to await sentencing for stealing a car, according to court records.
Abed blamed the courts for sending the teen home in May.
“This shouldn’t have happened,” Abed said last week. “It’s preventable.”
It’s unclear why the department’s caseworkers reversed their position from April 17 to recommend house arrest on May 18.
“Essentially, it makes a detention recommendation that’s inconsistent with DJS policies,” Cleary said.
Department officials requested a transcript from the May 18 hearing to determine what happened and whether its report recommending house arrest influenced the judge’s decision. But juvenile records are sealed to most people — except defense attorneys and prosecutors — and a judge denied the department’s request for the transcript.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby demanded last week that Abed take responsibility for the teen’s release.
“I am more than appalled, disheartened and perplexed by the secretary of the Department of Juvenile Services’ attempt to shift responsibility away from his department by blaming my office and my attorneys for the release of an alleged murderer,” she said at a news conference.
Citing the confidentiality of juvenile cases, Mosby has declined to say whether her prosecutors recommended Harris be locked up.
Harris had fled home detention when he allegedly struck and killed Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio with a stolen Jeep last week in Perry Hall. Police say Harris was waiting in the Jeep while three other teenagers were burglarizing homes in the neighborhood when Caprio arrived.
Police said Caprio opened fire before Harris ran her over with the Jeep. Caprio 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 was simply trying to drive away.
If convicted of murder, Harris could be sentenced to life in prison. He remains held without bail pending an appearance next month in Baltimore County District Court.
The three other teens are also charged with first-degree murder.