After 12- and 14-year-olds opened fire on his deputies Tuesday night, Volusia County’s sheriff is lashing out at Florida’s Juvenile Justice system, saying it is not equipped to handle the crimes that some children are committing these days.
Sheriff Mike Chitwood made the remarks Tuesday night as he discussed a shootout between deputies and children armed with an AK-47 rifle and a pump shotgun.
“Where have we gone wrong? That 12-year-old and 14-year-old think it’s OK to take on law enforcement? What the hell is the Department of Juvenile Justice doing sending these kids to places that can’t handle them?” Chitwood said.
Chitwood took aim at the state’s agency after the two children escaped from the Florida United Methodist’s foster home in Enterprise. broke into a home and found the assault-style rifle and shotgun, along with a handgun and 200 rounds of ammunition. They used the arsenal to open fire on deputies from a bedroom window, the pool deck and the garage.
Deputies didn’t return fire immediately because of the children’s ages, only choosing to return fire when a 14-year-old girl exited the garage and pointed a shotgun at a deputy. The shootout continued for more than hour. The girl was injured in the exchange of gunfire.
“Ths is something I’ve never seen in my 35 years of policing,” Chitwood said. “I’m sad to say, thank God my career is starting to come to an end because I don’t know what the future of law enforcement looks like in this country.”
Chitwood didn’t used words not usually heard from elected officials in criticizing the system.
“We really need to be exposing the Department of Juvenile Justice. It’s a failure, it’s flawed, it’s a fake, and when you hear about the restorative justice for juvenile, it’s bull****.”
News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson agreed with Chitwood, saying Florida’s Juvenile Justice system needs to take a 180-degree turn and look at its policies and practices. He says far too often juveniles avoid punishment because of their age, especially juveniles who repeatedly commit adult crimes.
“I understand his anger because the deputies could have been killed,” News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said. “With regards to the juvenile justice system, it’s fractured and needs a lot of work, and it’s needed a lot of work for a long time.”
Jefferson said that civil citations have their proper place in the criminal justice system and will serve as a deterrent to encourage teenagers to not get into trouble again. But each and every case has to scrutinized, and he says habitual teenagers don’t need tough love, they need jail sentences.
Last week, 7th District State Attorney R.J. Larizza, discussing 14-year-old Adel Fucci, charged with first-degree murder the stabbing death of 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey, said Florida’s juvenile justice system is ill-equipped to deal with children that are this violent.
“I hope more and more of these instances don’t happen, but if they do, our legislators have got to open their ears and eyes to what’s going on,” Larizza said. “Yeah, it’s an enormous task to reform the criminal justice system, but if we don’t start sometime or the other, it’s going to fester and get worse and worse.”