D.C. Policy of Early Release of Juveniles Needs Review

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, September 5, 2009

I didn't know Deborah Ann Brown, who worked at the Dunkin' Donuts store on 14th Street NW. But I know plenty of people like her. They stand on their feet all day doing their job of tending to others and playing by the rules.

Which is one of the reasons I'm so angry that she's dead.

Brown, 48, was walking on 14th Street on the night of Aug. 29 when her life was taken, allegedly by a teenager on a bicycle who was recklessly firing his gun at someone else.

I'm angry because Deborah Brown had every right to walk the streets of the nation's capital unmolested. She lived within the law. The first-degree murder charge filed by D.C. police against 17-year-old Devonte Carlton alleges that he has not. She's gone; he's still here.

You probably know from reading The Post's story on Brown's shooting that police said Carlton was a member of a gang known as the Girard Street crew, or "G-Rod"; that his crew was supposedly feuding with a rival gang; and that Carlton allegedly fired his weapon last Saturday when he spotted a perceived enemy across the street.

Was this Devonte Carlton's first brush with the law?

The reason the question cannot be answered officially -- and if it's left up to the mayor and council, you will never know the answer -- is that they have made it illegal for you to know it.

The city believes juvenile offenders ought to be protected from the stigma of public knowledge about their behavior. It also contends that after juvenile offenders receive the benefit of supervision, treatment and support provided by the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, they should be allowed to get on with their lives with a clean slate. To achieve that goal, the city restricts access to juvenile records.

When asked Friday about Devonte Carlton, D.C. Superior Court spokeswoman Leah Gurowitz wrote in an e-mail: "The D.C. Code protects the confidentiality of juveniles and their court records; this restriction remains in place even if they are later charged as adults."

By the way, Devonte's brother is Lafonte Carlton. Name sound familiar? It should. I wrote about Lafonte Carlton earlier this year. ["One Young Offender's History in D.C., Feb. 7; "A Deadly Toll Is Reduced to 'Anecdotes,' " Feb. 21; "What the Mayor Won't Tell You About D.C.," March 21.] Lafonte Carlton, then 18, was charged in January with two homicides in the District -- one allegedly committed in December 2008, the other on Jan. 9. He was under the supervision of DYRS at the time of his arrest.

At age 15, Lafonte was placed in DYRS custody by the court until age 21 for committing a homicide. However, he was released from secure detention 2 1/2 years later. My Feb. 7 column detailed aspects of Lafonte Carlton's juvenile criminal history.

In that respect, I probably stand accused of having stigmatized Lafonte by making public some of his youthful indiscretions.

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