Last Wednesday, there was a knock on our front door. I answered in my bathrobe. A probation officer asked to enter the house. I assumed he was there for a random check as T. is on "house arrest" at the whim of the juvenile court judge who has him on informal supervision, although he's not charged with a serious crime, nor is he actually on probation. I let the officer in. He was followed by six police officers, some with their hands on their holsters. I sensed that this was not routine.
They asked where T's room was, made me go into another room, took T from his bed in his pajamas, took him into the courtyard of our apartment building, handcuffed him and surrounded him. He stood there for half an hour before they put him in the police car. The neighbors all came out and stared. The police wouldn't let me talk to him. They asked me who I was. I said I was his pre-adoptive parent and he had been living with me for two years. They asked me if I lived alone with him. I said no, I live here with my husband and we alternate days at home to supervise his schooling, as he does independent study at home. I begged them to give him his medicine before they took him away. I asked what was going on. They told me T was being arrested for armed robbery.
They took him to a police station, took a statement from him with no parent or attorney present, and then took him to juvenile hall for processing. That night I got a call from juvenile hall saying that T had verified that he was with his social worker at the treatment house in another county on the date in question. The probation officer had verified this alibi and called me to say he expected charges to be dropped and T released home the next day. He asked if I would pick him up and if I would be happy to have him home. Of course, I said.
The next day came and went and nothing happened. We called to inquire and were told we were to appear in juvenile court the following morning. We waited four hours at court until T's case was called. When we entered the courtroom, no public defender was present although we asked to speak with one. Without pausing to even read the case file or ask any questions, the judge told T he was "sickened" by the charges and ordered him detained - in other words, he remains in juvenile hall until his next hearing on this matter. I rose, began to cry, and explained T's whereabouts in another county on the date in question, and that we expected him released, and that we had an attorney at a local children's legal center ready to represent us. The judge looked stricken for a moment, then repeated that he would not be releasing T under any circumstances, due to the seriousness of the charge. Although he began by saying he was setting a trial date in a few week's time, after my outburst, he set what is known in our state as a Dennis H hearing for 72 business hours (excluding the weekend) later, a hearing at which the District Attorney must prove they have reasonable suspicion of guilt and that the defendant should remain in custody. I noted for the record that no public defender was present at the time and I was ignored.
The judge said something to T I will never forget. He said, "If it turns out you did not do this - and I hope you did not - then you can consider your time in juvenile hall this week karmic payback for whatever you've done in your life that you didn't get caught for."
That is what he said.
My son went back to juvenile hall, where he is currently being held in an overflow unit where no nurse is available because juvenile hall is overcrowded right now. As a result, it was four days until he got the medication that I sent with the police and instructed them to administer twice a day. He has no books, no paper or pencils, and no recreational time outdoors. He sits in a cell all day long. For the first two nights, he did not sleep at all.
We have spent days pursing legal counsel for him. Through a very good friend, we have a kind lawyer willing to represent T next week to present the incontrovertible evidence that he was not within sixty miles of the crime scene at the time of the incident. We have statements from a social worker and the chief administrator of the treatment house where he was under close supervision at the very time of the crime. By contrast, the DA apparently has only the word of a teenage victim who thinks that someone with my son's name did the crime.
The charge is a felony. It will remain on his record for life if we aren't successful in exonerating him. The incident in question took place near our house on a day when T, by some miracle, was in the custody of his social worker IN ANOTHER COUNTY, being VOLUNTARILY admitted to residential treatment. Both the police and we have contacted the treatment house and obtained verification that he was in their custody at the time of the incident. In short: the crime happened to occur on a day when, by some stroke of fortune, T's every move was documented hour by hour. He has the perfect alibi. Nevertheless, due to a harried juvenile courtroom and a judge accustomed to playing God with children and parents who are intimidated by the system, our kid remains in custody while the system takes its sweet time catching up to the fact that he is innocent. There is a police report taken at juvenile hall where they called his social worker and the treatment house and confirmed his alibi, but nobody had time to read it on the day of his detention hearing.
To say I am sick with worry is an understatement. I saw T today and he is glassy eyed and overwhelmed. He is understandably angry. He is a smart kid and he knows what is wrong with this situation. He told me today that he hates the city we live in and wants to move. He is on the verge of falling apart. It is a real bitch raising a son and trying to teach him to respect the law and avoid cynicism when the system treats him this way.
I will concentrate right now on getting him home this week. And then I will focus all my resources on having the charges dropped, or having him declared innocent. Then I will not hold back in seeing that the system hears from a parent about what it means to bring a legal minor up on felony charges with no legal representation and no attention to the evidence.
Please keep us in your prayers in the meantime.