An alleged teenage gang founder with a violent past should be tried as an adult for a series of drive-by shootings that left two people injured, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered in a strongly worded ruling.
The ruling reverses an earlier decision by a Hennepin County judge that denied prosecutors' attempts to try the 16-year-old, identified as P.C.T., as an adult for six counts of attempted murder for the benefit of a gang, stemming from the March 5, 2012, shootings. The Appeals Court disagreed, saying that despite numerous opportunities, there's no evidence P.C.T. has shown meaningful improvement in his behavior through earlier juvenile justice programming, and that his potential for rehabilitation does not outweigh public safety.
"By making public safety the predominant concern, the statute assures the public that an offender as dangerous as [P.C.T.] will not be shooting up another neighborhood anytime soon," Appeals Court Judge Michael Kirk wrote.
The case will now return to district court where the teen will be tried as an adult. However, his attorney, Mark Nyvold, said he will likely appeal to the state Supreme Court. He declined to comment further.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the order means it was "time for some serious gut-checking" among county probation officers when it comes to violent young offenders.
"We prosecutors are accused sometimes of overweighing public safety, and on occasion I think we do," he said. "In this case, probation evaluators sometimes put a little too much stock into what juvenile placement can do."
The appeal stems from charges against the teenager in connection with drive-by shootings. Witnesses identified P.C.T. and he was later arrested and charged. Prosecutors sought to certify him as an adult. The victims were all connected to rival gangs of the Skitz Squad, which P.C.T. allegedly formed and led following the September 2011 murder of his cousin, Juwon "Skitz" Osborne. The same gang is linked to a feud that allegedly led to last summer's death of 5-year-old Nizzel George, who died when a bullet from a drive-by shooting pierced the house where he was staying.
At a May hearing, Hennepin County probation officer Susan Bach recommended that P.C.T. be placed in a juvenile detention center for the next five years under "extended juvenile jurisdiction." A psychologist recommended the same, saying the teenager had antisocial behavior disorders that stemmed from the violent deaths of his cousin and both parents, current legal stresses and the recent birth of his child, and needed residential treatment.
In her order, Judge Kathryn Quaintance denied the motion to try the teen as an adult, reasoning in part that adequate punishment and programming is available in the juvenile justice system, and that "retaining the proceedings in juvenile court serves public safety."
The Appeals Court, citing the "extreme gravity" of the alleged offense, and the defendant's lack of response to juvenile justice programming from a previous gun-related conviction, argued that the potential 40-year prison sentence the teen faced as an adult did more to protect public safety.
"[P.C.T.'s] record documents his troubling tendency to engage in increasingly dangerous activity," Kirk wrote. "On his own volition, he armed himself, rallied his friends, and led them on a shooting spree in Minneapolis."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921