A 17-year-old Minneapolis girl will avoid adult prosecution for a crash that killed two teen passengers in a carjacked SUV.
Tiana Lashay Alize Hughes reached a juvenile court plea agreement for manslaughter with the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, according to court records. It comes more than a year after a December 2021 high-speed police chase ended with Hughes crashing the SUV into a tree in northeast Minneapolis, splitting the vehicle in half.
Hughes' foster mom said Hughes went into Dakota County Residential Treatment Facility for youth on Wednesday. She was originally charged with two counts each of causing death while fleeing police, second-degree manslaughter and criminal vehicular homicide.
The county attorney's office, under the former leadership of Mike Freeman, had wanted Hughes certified as an adult because "retaining the child in juvenile court does not serve public safety," according to the certification petition filed a year after the crash.
Shawndale D. Hickman, 16, died at the scene and Debra Ann Ward, 16, died at the hospital. Ward, who is Hughes' cousin, had been involved in another stolen SUV crash about eight months earlier.
"I would have felt it would have been inappropriate for her to be charged as an adult," Hughes' foster mom Sarah Kiefer said in a phone interview Friday.
"We would drive by the site of her crash on the way to school and I asked her if that bothered her," Kiefer said. "Locking her up as an adult would not have helped her deal with that. I'm hopeful and optimistic that she'll get the help she needs in Dakota County."
Family members of the deceased watched the March 23 plea agreement hearing in the courtroom and on Zoom, court documents show.
Hughes admitted to the manslaughter charges and all other counts were dismissed. As part of the agreement, she will be placed on extended juvenile jurisdiction and must remain offense-free until her 21st birthday. She was ordered to complete programming in Dakota County for six to nine months.
If Hughes violates probation before she turns 21, she will face an adult prison sentence of four years and eight months.
Hickman's mother Gailisha Hopson said the outcome of this is not justice. She said about 10 relatives watched the hearing on Zoom and they were all let down. "I tried to say something and they cut my mic off so I couldn't speak," she said.
"[Hughes] has not felt sorry until charges were brought upon her," Hopson said. "It's hard. I'm hanging in there. I have other kids I have to be here for."
Ward's father, Raymond Muse, first learned of the agreement during a phone interview Friday with the Star Tribune. He said the punishment doesn't amount to "the hell I've been through." He said the officers who chased the SUV down have to pay and so does Hughes.
"Stop the car, get out. That's all she had to do," Muse said. "No more slaps on the wrist. No more of that. If you get out here and commit a crime, then you have to do the time."
The course of Hughes' case changed under Freeman's successor, Mary Moriarty, who campaigned to "treat kids like kids."
Moriarty recently came under fire for offering extended juvenile jurisdiction to two teenage brothers charged with second-degree murder. They could avoid a lengthy adult prison sentence in exchange for their testimony against a man accused of plotting to kill his ex-girlfriend, Zaria McKeever, who the teens shot inside her Brooklyn Park apartment last fall. McKeever's family is strongly opposed to the plea deal.
Nick Kimball, spokesperson for the county attorney's office, said in a statement that such cases are devastating to families and the community, and the office seeks both accountability and justice with the best chance of avoiding it happening again.
"In this case, the specific characteristics and background of the young person who caused this tragedy can best be addressed through a specific, structured plan possible only in the juvenile system with a lengthy adult prison sentence hanging over her head," the statement said. "This outcome would not be suitable in every case but was the appropriate outcome here."
According to the charges against Hughes:
Minneapolis police were alerted at about 6 p.m. Dec. 8, 2021, to the armed carjacking of a Mercedes SUV near N. 12th and Fremont avenues. Around 2:25 a.m., Robbinsdale police saw the stolen SUV and later attempted to stop the driver at Theodore Wirth Parkway.
The SUV went through a red light and at times crossed into oncoming traffic. Hughes reached speeds of 110 mph before losing control and striking a tree.
Officers involved in the pursuit could not immediately determine who was driving. Hughes told them: "I got a concussion. I don't know." Two juvenile males who survived the wreck denied driving.
Investigators tested DNA in blood from the steering wheel airbag and the driver's side window and determined Hughes was the driver.
Hughes was a ward of the state at the time of the crash. Kiefer became Hughes' foster mom in September, nine months afterward.
She said they wouldn't have reached a settlement if it had continued down the path of adult certification.
"It was an extremely painful case for everybody involved," public defender Paula Brummel said. "These tragic situations always leave pain behind."