Judge weighs probation, detention for District youth involved in April zoo shooting

The sentencing of the 14-year-old who pleaded guilty to shooting into a crowd outside the National Zoo in April, was delayed Friday after a probation officer and prosecutors requested the youth remain in custody of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, while the teen’s public defender requested the youth be released and placed on probation.

As both sides made their argument in D.C. Superior Court, Judge Danya A. Dayson told the participants despite evaluations of the teen made by psychiatrists and court personnel, she too had “concerns” about the teen’s understanding of the shooting and his appreciation of the seriousness of his actions and those concerns would weigh into her sentencing.

Dayson said she was not indicating what her sentence would be, but admitted she was also troubled by the teen allegedly telling doctors that he believed people would “get over” the shooting, the way he and his family had to “get over” when his brother was killed. Dayson said that indicated the teen did not grasp the seriousness of the zoo shooting.

“There are issues as to whether he appreciates what happened. He has not spoken at length about the situation,” she said. “His brother’s murder obviously still has an impact on him.” No additional information about his brother’s death was released.

The Washington Post was allowed to attend Friday’s hearing on the condition that it did not identify the youth, who was charged as a juvenile.

No one was killed in the shooting that occurred at the zoo’s annual Easter Monday family celebration. Police said the teen was a member of the Southwest Crew, a gang in Southwest Washington, and was outside the zoo when he encountered members of the Kentland Crew, a rival gang from Prince George’s County. The teen pulled out a handgun and fired into the crowd, police said. A 16-year-old was shot in an elbow and an 18-year-old was shot in a hand.

The teen was arrested weeks after the shootings and was initially charged with multiple counts including first-degree attempted murder. Last month, he pled guilty to lesser charges of assault with a deadly weapon.

One doctor wrote in her report that she believed the juvenile would not pose a threat if he were released from custody and was regularly using his mental health medications.

But Dayson said she was concerned with whether the juvenile would take his medications while out in the community. “I have to focus on the safety of the community and the safety” of the juvenile.

The youth’s mother, standing behind her son who was in shackles, begged the judge to release him. “He’s not a monster. He hooked up with the wrong people. He has been locked up for four months in the shelter. I apologize for what my son has done. He has learned his lesson.”

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Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of slain federal intern Chandra Levy.
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