- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

When a teenager stole a car and killed a community activist in a traffic accident in 2004, the D.C. Superior Court recommended detaining him for at least six years.

The D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, however, released him after 17 months. The teen recently was re-arrested on charges of stealing another car.

In December 2004, the teen was turned over to the custody of the agency after he entered a no contest plea to manslaughter, unauthorized use of a vehicle and related charges in the death of Marx Aristide, a 37-year-old Silver Spring resident and prominent Haitian activist.

Judge Fern Flanagan Saddler sentenced the teen with the recommendation that he be committed to the city’s custody for six years, until he turned 21. Court officials also said they recommended during a review of the case in May that the detention be continued.

However, a source with knowledge of the case and speaking on the condition of anonymity said the teen was sent to a behavior-modification program for six months and allowed to return home after 17 months in custody.

Superior Court officials this week told The Washington Times — on the condition that the teen’s name not be published — that he was re-arrested Jan. 31 on charges of theft, destruction of property, receipt of stolen property and unauthorized use of a vehicle.

Agency officials said they could not provide details related to the case or the teen’s release because of strict laws governing such information.

“The whole purpose [of the laws] is that one day these kids can eventually get rehabilitated and turn their lives around and not worry about past indiscretions,” said agency spokeswoman LaShon Seastrunk.

The teen’s next court appearance is scheduled for April 5.

His re-arrest highlights the challenges facing the agency and Director Vincent Schiraldi, who took over the leadership in January 2005 after the department’s problem-laden past as the Youth Services Agency.

Mr. Schiraldi has vowed to reform the agency by improving city care facilities and sending more offenders to community-based programs instead of confining them to youth detention centers.

He set a goal of having 166 youths in secure confinement by the end of September last year. The agency almost reached the mark in the summer — at about the same time the teen car thief was released — with about 190 youths in custody.

However, the number has since increased to 233. And last week, agency employees handed Mr. Schiraldi a vote of no confidence. The agency could be placed under court receivership if problems are not resolved, officials said.

D.C. council member Adrian M. Fenty, chairman of the Committee on Human Services — which oversees the agency — said the re-arrest is “part and parcel” of the agency’s problems.

“Generally, young people who enter our juvenile justice system should be held for the time it takes to really help them to straighten out their lives,” the Ward 4 Democrat said. “If we don’t make aggressive reforms in the agency, unfortunately, this kind of stuff is going to continue to happen.”

Mr. Schiraldi acknowledged yesterday at a committee oversight hearing that some of his reforms — including the gradual closing and rebuilding of the Oak Hill Youth Center — have not been implemented with the success and timeliness he expected.

However, he pointed out that overall juvenile crime and juvenile arrests decreased in 2005.

“Some have suggested that, as we’re going through our changes, we’re making our neighborhoods less safe,” Mr. Schiraldi said. “Significantly and thankfully, the evidence does not bear that out.”

The teen in the Aristide case was arrested in June 2004 after driving a stolen Jeep Cherokee through a red light at 14th Street and Florida Avenue in Northwest and fatally striking Mr. Aristide’s Toyota.

Mr. Aristide was an economist and was considered one of the United States’ most prominent activists for Haitian democracy. His fiancee also was in the car and was injured in the crash.

At the trial, Mr. Aristide’s mother joined the teen’s family in requesting that he be released to his family, despite his admission that he had driven stolen cars at least two other times.

The victim’s family later asked prosecutors to “keep in mind that in so many ways these two young men are also victims in this tragedy — victims of a society which has all but abandoned them.”

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