• Jailing Juveniles: Judge says flaw allowed kids to work the system

    By: Sophia Choi

    Updated:

    Flaws in Georgia’s juvenile justice system came into focus in November 2016. That’s when two teenage brothers shot and killed 51-year old Anthony Brooks at a southwest Atlanta gas station.  

    Police had previously arrested and released Charlie and Isaac McDaniel dozens of times.

    [Mother of teens accused of murder: 'I've been asking for help']

    The family of Anthony Brooks tell Channel 2 Action News reporter Sophia Choi the system failed them. But they also say jailing juveniles may not be the answer. 

    The last few minutes of Brooks’ life were captured on a security camera at a Shell gas station on Campbellton Road.

    In the video, he can be heard shouting to anyone who would listen that the two boys terrorizing the neighborhood were in the parking lot.

    “It has been a tremendous loss for our family,” Tawanna Brooks, Anthony’s aunt, told Choi. “It was a mixture of hurt obviously from the loss of Anthony. But also just really angry at the judicial system.”

    [Judge on sentencing of killer brothers: 'The court system failed this community']

    Her anger erupted after learning about the extensive criminal history of the McDaniel brothers. The boys were well-known for gas station “slider” thefts – stealing purses from unlocked car doors at gas pumps. 

    "They failed the community and now Anthony is dead," Brooks said.


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    In the video, he can be heard shouting to anyone who would listen that the two boys terrorizing the neighborhood were in the parking lot.

    Minutes later, a physical confrontation develops between Brooks and the two boys, who were just 15 and 16 years old at the time.

    The brothers fire multiple shots before speeding off in a stolen red Dodge Charger. Brooks was hit three times. He died at Grady Hospital Memorial Hospital.

    “It has been a tremendous loss for our family,” Tawanna Brooks, Anthony’s aunt, told Sophia Choi. “It was a mixture of hurt obviously from the loss of Anthony. But also just really angry at the judicial system.”

    Her anger erupted after learning about the extensive criminal history of the McDaniel brothers. The boys were well-known for gas station “slider” thefts – stealing purses from unlocked car doors at gas pumps. 

    “It brought me to a point of not really understanding how two teenage boys could be arrested more than 30 times and continue to be out on the streets committing crimes,” Tawanna Brooks said.

    The explanation comes down to a piece of paper used by juvenile judges and intake officers. 
    It’s the Georgia juvenile point system called the DAI or detention assessment instrument.

    It allows intake officers and judges to assign a score depending on the severity of the crime.

    A score of 12 or above suggests the juvenile should be detained. Judges are permitted to use their discretion and can override recommendations.

    But officers tell Channel 2 young criminals know how to “work” the system, often getting out after an arrest even before the paperwork is done.

    “They get bolder every time they walk into an intake facility, do their information and be turned around and sent out the door,” Tawanna Brooks said.

    The McDaniel brothers avoided detention because they were deemed mentally incompetent. That meant they could not be housed in a traditional secure facility. But Fulton County does not have a mental health facility for detained juveniles.   

    “And so the Fulton County judges had no choice but to keep releasing those brothers,” Judge Steven Teske said. 

    Teske presides over the Clayton County juvenile court and helped reform Georgia law in light of the McDaniel brothers case.

    “The problem unfortunately involving the two brothers is they had to be released by law, which has since been changed, so if that happened today, wouldn’t happen,” Teske told Sophia Choi. “I do not believe that we should continuously allow someone to be released without substantial intervention,” Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said.

    Howard says the McDaniel brothers put new focus on how they treat repeat teen criminals, whether they are deemed incompetent or not. 

    “What we have done in the DA’s office is to try now to focus upon those cases where juveniles (have) been arrested for 3 or more times,” Howard said.

    But experts say jailing juveniles isn’t always the answer.

    Teske gives many a way out through his Second Chance program, which provides mentoring and evidence-based programs. Eight years in, Teske says the recidivism rate is 12 percent.

    “When we take the kids who make us mad and we treat them as if they’re scary, we actually turn them into scary kids,” Teske said.

    Teske says gangs actually use detention centers as a recruitment tool. Often, once a kid goes in they become career criminals.

    “The best training ground for delinquency is in the detention center,” Teske said.

    Tawanna Brooks says the brothers never faced real punishment until they murdered her loved one.

    “I’m not saying that children should be detained and locked away forever for crimes. But I do believe and I’m a firm believer that there should be consequences for negative behavior, even if it’s your first time,” Tawanna Brooks said. 

    She prays no other family has to go through this kind of loss at the hands of teens who got so many chances.

    “I think the parents failed. I think the juvenile system failed. The points system failed. The juvenile judges failed. They let these kids out at their discretion, based on what?” 

    Georgia is a national leader when it comes to juvenile justice. Gov. Nathan Deal recently put about $20 million in the budget for juvenile reform. That will include mental health services like those needed for the McDaniel brothers.

    The two teens pleaded guilty to murder and were sentenced to 45 years in prison.

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