Carbondale police, YouthZone at odds over handling of juvenile arrests
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE ” An apparent communication breakdown between police and a local youth services agency may have allowed some of the more dangerous juvenile suspects in a recent gang-style assault case to remain free before their court hearing last week.
According to Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling, at the time of the Jan. 29 incident in which seven teenage suspects were cited for felony assault and theft and released to parents or another responsible adults, YouthZone was contacted to help determine if any of the suspects should be sent to a juvenile detention facility.
However, the YouthZone intermediary who was on call that night “refused” to respond, Schilling said at a Tuesday night work session with the Town Board to discuss a variety of police department issues.
According to police, around 8 p.m. on Jan. 29 three teenage girls allegedly attacked two women, ages 24 and 26, as they were walking along Second Street, beat them and stole a purse. The girls then allegedly jumped into a waiting vehicle occupied by four male suspects, all juveniles, and fled.
The suspect vehicle and teens were located a short time later in the City Market parking lot. They were eventually issued citations and turned over to the adults who had been contacted.
The incident appeared to have the markings of a gang-style initiation rite, according to victim accounts. At last week’s court hearing in Glenwood Springs, the defendants were ordered not to have contact with each other or the victims, and not to wear “gang colors or clothing,” among other stipulations.
Schilling said that in arrests involving juveniles, the preferred method is to release them to a responsible adult.
However, “If we as law enforcement officers believe the juvenile should be housed in a juvenile detention facility, we first contact YouthZone, which responds and determines if the person should be housed in detention,” he said.
Even then, a judge has to be contacted to assess the situation and determine if detention is appropriate.
“This procedure, depending on how many arrestees and the seriousness of the crime, can take many hours,” Schilling said. “In this case, YouthZone was contacted and refused to respond.”
However, YouthZone Executive Director Debbie Wilde said Wednesday that the agency’s response depends on the information provided by the police. The arresting officer can handle it in a couple of ways, she said, according to a process set up by the state’s juvenile justice system.
If police believe a detention hold is appropriate for any juvenile, they must write an affidavit, after which a representative from YouthZone will respond, she said.
In this case, however, the officer wrote up what’s called a promise to appear in court, which the parents or another adult must sign before the suspect is released to their custody, Wilde said.
“We don’t screen kids on promises to appear in court,” she said. “The officer makes that call.”
Even if a juvenile is recommended for detention upon arrest, it’s not that simple, Wilde said. The Ninth Judicial District has six juvenile beds available to it at a detention facility in Grand Junction. If those beds are full, it means another detainee would have to be released to accommodate a more high-risk detainee, she said.
After the Carbondale incident, town trustees asked that the situation be addressed, especially due to the seriousness of the crime and concerns that the process may have broken down.
“My concern is that something was wrong with the system that’s in place if YouthZone was contacted and didn’t respond,” Trustee Stacey Bernot said. “This was a really bad situation, and I don’t want it to happen again … there needs to be some public accountability.”
At last week’s court hearing, one of the 17-year-old male suspects in the Carbondale case was sent to the Grand Mesa Youth Detention Facility. The other five suspects who were in court at the time were placed on home detention with electronic monitoring.
Carbondale officials asked that YouthZone representatives be invited to a follow-up meeting to clear the air. Wilde said she welcomes that conversation.
“This is something we talk about with police and communities all the time,” she said. “It is a good opportunity to sit down and explain what the process is, and how communities can use us for early intervention.”
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