State Attorney R.J. Larizza told reporters today that the case of two children who allegedly ran away from a group home, broke into a house, stole firearms, and fired on deputies at a home in Enterprise June 1, was an opportunity to look for solutions.
“I hope this case will make a difference,” Larizza said.
The statement came at a news conference called to announce the charges being filed against the juveniles: the 14-year-old girl will be charged as an adult, while the 12-year-old boy will be charged as a juvenile. They each will be charged with attempted first-degree murder of a law-enforcement officer, burglary of a dwelling with a firearm, and criminal mischief.
“This is not a case where it’s a whodunit,” Larizza said of the decision. “It’s not about the evidence; it’s about what’s the appropriate thing to do.”
Larizza said after consulting with law enforcement, including the deputies who were shot at, the State Attorney’s Office came to their decision.
Larizza underscored that while the girl will be charged as an adult, it is at the discretion of the judge whether she will be sentenced as one.
“We believe that putting her charged as an adult doesn’t mean that she’s ultimately going to be sentenced as an adult,” Larizza said. “We’ll cross that bridge later.”
In the meantime, Larizza said, officials with the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Children and Families are looking into how to better meet the needs of children.
“I’m convinced after talking with the secretary [of the Department of Juvenile Justice] that they are open to considering ways in which they can address how to deal with kids that commit crimes like this,” Larizza said. “I think the juvenile justice system is well equipped, therapeutically, for nonviolent offenders, and especially for offenders like when you get into civil citations. But this was a far cry from a civil-citation case,” Larizza said.
A civil citation avoids criminal charges in the case of some first-time offenses.
“We’re going to do everything we can — for me as the elected state attorney and our staff in the sheriff’s offices — to keep this conversation going in talks with the legislators,” Larizza said. “I think we have folks in decision-making positions with the DCF and the DJJ that want to help figure out what a better practice would be.”
The State Attorney’s Office intends to keep both children in detention, Larizza said, for their safety and the safety of the public. The 14-year-old will have a hearing to determine bond. The 12-year-old boy is currently closing in on the maximum time state statute allows him to be incarcerated, at 21 days. Once that time is up, his status will be reevaluated by the court every 72 hours.
“It gives us time with her, as well as with him, to get expert opinions about them, and to help us to reach a conclusion that I think is fair and equitable and addresses public safety, while at the same time addressing their needs, too,” Larizza said. “Our priority — law enforcement, the State Attorney’s Office — No. 1 is you and your family’s safety. But, we can do that as well as address, I believe, the needs of these folks that are charged, and other folks that get in the criminal justice system.”