At King County Juvenile Court, the 14-year-old who beat an Alki woman unconscious as she worked as a Metro bus driver has just been sentenced to a year in juvenile custody – Judge Chris Washington decided to impose the extra-long sentence the prosecution had requested, rather than the standard sentence (at least a third less) that his lawyer had asked for.
Before announcing his decision, Judge Washington heard from the attacker’s mother – late to the hearing, reportedly because she was working as a school-bus driver – and very briefly from the 14-year-old himself. The mother insisted her son is “a good kid” and could “never hit anyone” and started to blame the victim for what happened the January night her son lashed out while the bus stopped in Tukwila. But she was interrupted by the judge and prosecutor and told not to address the victim again. Her son briefly addressed the victim at the judge’s suggestion – saying only “Sorry for assaulting you.” The victim asked that he say it again while looking at her; the judge said he could not order the boy to do so, but he did it voluntarily. She said, “Thank you.” She had said yesterday – when she made her statement (read it in our previous report), though the sentencing itself was not concluded because of a delay requested by the defense lawyer – that she wasn’t sure she’d be here today; but this morning, she told WSB, “I needed the closure” that being here for the duration would provide.
The attacker has already spent 11 weeks in juvenile detention, which will be credited toward his one-year sentence; he also was ordered not to ride Metro buses between 8 pm and 6 am until he is 21, and will have to pay restitution for any costs the victim has incurred because of what happened. The judge explained his decision by citing “the severity” of the attack and saying he would not accept any attempt to blame it on the fact the 14-year-old wasunder the influence of alcohol at the time. ADDED 10:53 AM: More details from the hearing, including more of what the judge and the teen’s mother said – read on:
The victim’s son was again there to support his mother as she faced her attacker for a second straight day. The media presence was a little lighter – one TV camera again serving as “pool,” with a couple others plugged into the feed from outside, and not as many other journalists as yesterday. Juvenile Court is right next to the county juvenile detention facility:
In his opening remarks, asking for a sentence in the standard range – up to 36 weeks – for second-degree assault, the teen’s lawyer described a letter of apology that his client apparently had given the judge, who expressed some surprise that the letter described the physical contact as “touching”: After all, he said, the driver was “(rendered) unconscious.”
The lawyer attributed the choice of words to his client’s age, and insisted, “I think he’s taken some responsibility for his behavior.” But he then went on to suggest there was “an indication of some provocation … when (a bus) door gets closed on somebody, you shouldn’t do something as rash and violent as this, but I ask the court to take that into account.” He also suggested his client was to some degree failed by the system, having been contacted more than a dozen times by law-enforcement officers specializing in gang activities, without any interventions or referrals (let alone arrests).
The defense lawyer was wrapping up when the suspect’s mother arrived. She was offered the chance to speak – here is our best attempt at transcribing her remarks:
I did apologize to the victim … took me some time to think. My son is a victim and she is a victim herself. I believe my son is not guilty of assaulting the driver. This is in your courtroom because of his behavior and the way the driver handled herself. … My son is not capable of hitting anyone. I need help with (managing his behavior). I apologize again. (starting to address the victim) If you had prevented the situation ….”
At this point, the victim started to protest, and the prosecutor and judge asked the mother not to address the victim again. Judge Washington pointed out that the plea was guilty, suggesting the boy himself did not deny involvement; then the judge clarified that he was most interested in hearing more about why the mother thinks “he will not continue to behave as he does and hang out with the kind of guys he does? I am (also) curious to know how things are going around the house – is he a help, is he a constant source of worry every time he leaves …
With that, the mother continued:
My son is 14 years old. He does his chores, he is usually home on time, he is a good kid. He does his work, his homework, he slipped away that one night … he comes home on time from school, gets along with his brothers and sister, he is only 14 and he is learning as he is growing up. I cannot be a monitor 24-7, your honor.
She also denied that her son is a gang member, saying he may be “pretending.” (As we wrote yesterday, a gang detective from the King County Sheriff’s Office said the agency had had repeated contact with the boy and that he had met 10 of the 13 criteria they use for determining bonafide gang membership – while they consider that meeting any three of those criteria qualifies.)
A probation representative spoke next, noting, “He comes from a family where a lot of his siblings have been in trouble … this is an egregious crime, I agree … I believe he knows he did wrong. I believe he’s got some insight into his behavior, which is fairly unusual, really. Without any prompting, he thought his choice to consume alcohol that night played a factor in the actions he committed.”
At that point, the judge asked if the boy had anything to say, and he muttered his brief apology.
The judge addressed him at length, saying the boy’s decision “to turn on a person who is doing a pretty hard job in the first place, sitting in a relatively confined area” showed “a complete indifference to how somebody else feels,” a lack of empathy. He added, after saying he was going along with the prosecution’s recommended extra-long sentence, because of “manifest injustice,” that more than the length of the sentence, the issue for the boy is, “What you decide to do with it … When you get to where you are going, you have a decision to make, who you are going to associate with, how to participate … Have you thought about that?”
The boy shook his head.
The judge continued: “If you want to change and be the person you wrote about in your letter to me … you can start there.” With that, the hearing concluded. The judge had another trial to get to, in adult court downtown; the boy was taken back to detention; the driver stayed to chat a few moments with those who had come to support her.