Youths being held in the Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center are seen as poor candidates for release while their cases are pending.
Kim A. Browne, administrative judge of Franklin County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, said as much in early April. She expressed hesitation about releasing anyone during the coronavirus pandemic, calling those detained in the facility “very, very high safety concerns.”
But after an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the detention center in early May, Browne ordered the release of eight youths on house arrest with electronic monitoring devices to reduce the detention center population.
By late June, two of the teens had been accused of violent gun crimes:
‒ Kenyion L. Hairston, 15, charged with delinquency murder for a shooting on a South Linden street in which a 14-year-old boy died, and delinquency aggravated burglary for a University District break-in during which an accomplice reportedly brandished a handgun.
‒ Victor J. Bivens Jr., 15, charged with delinquency aggravated robbery for allegedly knocking an 88-year-old woman to the floor and robbing her at gunpoint in her East Side home, and delinquency felonious assault for a shooting in which a friend was wounded on the East Side.
None of the eight released by Browne obeyed the judge’s order to stay home, a Dispatch review of Juvenile Court records shows.
Each one eventually removed or disabled his ankle monitor and went AWOL.
Two hadn’t been found as of Wednesday and were the subject of active warrants.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said of the results of the releases, each of which drew objections from his office.
“This kind of behavior was predictable, given their history, which is why we opposed their release,” he said.
Browne declined to answer a series of questions from The Dispatch about the decision-making process or comment on the outcome of the releases.
“The rules governing judicial conduct specifically prohibit judges from addressing any of these questions,” Browne responded in an email. “Judges may not say anything about cases on their dockets that might jeopardize their ability/duty to remain impartial.”
Of the eight released, Bivens and one other are on Browne’s docket.
Judge Dana S. Preisse, whose juvenile court docket includes Hairston and two of the other juveniles, said she wasn’t consulted about the decision to release them but didn’t criticize Browne’s action.
“It was an administrative decision that had to be made quickly,” Preisse said. “An administrative judge has to make tough decisions.
“We’ve never had this kind of scenario,” she said of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Three of the eight youths have cases on the docket of Judge Terri Jamison, who also confirmed that she was not asked to weigh in on their release. She declined to comment on Browne’s decision.
The head of an organization that opposes incarcerating youthful offenders said the failed outcomes of the releases “are exactly why we advocate for alternatives” to incarceration.
“The question we have to ask in these situations when a teenager recidivates is: What support and resources were provided to ensure they had what they needed to not struggle and resort to harmful behaviors? The answer in almost every case, including in Franklin County, is none,” Aramis Sundiata, executive director of the nonprofit Juvenile Justice Coalition of Ohio, wrote in an email.
“An ankle monitor is not support or a resource.”
Hairston was being held on eight felony counts, including two burglary charges, two car thefts and having a gun despite a felony conviction, when he was released May 6.
He violated his electronic monitoring device order twice before allegedly committing his most recent crimes.
Court records show that his first EMD violation was May 14, resulting in his arrest the next day. He was released back on EMD by a court magistrate on May 18. On June 9, he was AWOL again.
Hairston is one of two juveniles who since have been charged in the fatal shooting of Nysier Terry, 14, whose body was found at Medina and Republic avenues on June 24.
Police reports indicate that Terry was with Hairston and the other juvenile in a stolen vehicle from which shots were fired toward a group of teens. One of the shots apparently struck Terry inside the vehicle. His body was then dumped in the street before the shooters fled.
A day earlier, police reported that Hairston and an accomplice were seen on security video entering a home in the 100 block of East Norwich Avenue through a window while the occupant was asleep. The accomplice was armed with a handgun as the pair stole electronics, clothing and groceries, police said.
Bivens, who was being held on three felony counts, including attempted burglary and car thefts, also was released May 6.
On June 4, police said he forced his way into the elderly woman’s home on Sibley Avenue, knocking her down, after asking if she had any work he could do. He brandished a handgun and demanded money, according to police, who said Bivens’ fingerprints were found in the home.
Three days later, Bivens was with a 19-year-old friend in a home on Elaine Road when the friend warned him to stop playing with a handgun, police reported. The gun discharged, wounding the friend.
Hairston and Bivens have been arrested and are back in the detention center.
Franklin County’s law-enforcement agencies and the courts worked aggressively to reduce the adult jail population beginning in the early days of the pandemic. But Juvenile Court officials said in April that a similar effort would be difficult at the detention center because it holds only the most serious youthful offenders.
The Juvenile Court has worked for the past decade to find alternatives to incarceration for all but those seen as a threat to the community, cutting the detention center’s population roughly in half during that period.
The average daily population of the facility was 52 last year, down from 98 in 2010, an era when the population often topped 110. The facility is designed to hold as many as 132.
Browne’s decision to release eight youths came as COVID-19 swept through the facility. As of May 6, the court’s website reported that 25 youths and 30 staff members had tested positive for the virus.
The most recent update on the website showed no juveniles or staff members with the virus.