The presiding judge of the District's family court is looking into why a 12-year-old boy charged with kicking a child in a playground tussle was held for nearly seven hours in a cell at D.C. Superior Court.
Judge Ricardo M. Urbina has asked the boy's lawyer to provide a "full accounting" of the detention, which occurred Tuesday.
The issue of confining young juveniles in holding cells at the courthouse, particularly with older accused juvenile offenders, was raised last year after an incident in which an 11-year-old boy was assaulted in a courthouse cell.
The 12-year-old boy detained Tuesday is described in police records as 5 feet tall and weighing 80 pounds, although a source said yesterday he is closer to 4 feet 6 inches tall and weighs about 60 pounds. Juveniles up to 18 years old and charged with felonies are often held together.
The boy, who had no previous record, according to sources who have seen the police report, was arrested April 1 at his Southeast home and charged with felony "assault with a dangerous weapon, shod foot" in connection with a March 22 playground fight with an 8-year-old.
Sources said the 12-year-old, who was wearing tennis shoes, kicked the 8-year-old in the eye, causing the eye to swell and bleed. Two days later, the 8-year-old was taken to see a doctor and treated. The 12-year-old was arrested after the other child's mother filed a police complaint.
The juvenile holding cell where the 12-year-old was kept from about 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. Tuesday is in the same basement area as the adult facility and has been the focus of debate among city and federal officials since the May 1984 incident in which the 11-year-old was sexually assaulted. In that case, the youth was attacked by two older youths and forced to commit sodomy. The 11-year-old later was found to have contracted syphilis and has since undergone psychiatric treatment for depression and suicidal tendencies.
Several defense lawyers who represent juveniles said that this week's arrest of the 12-year-old boy highlights their concern that juveniles are often hit with exceptionally serious charges here. These lawyers said they have seen instances in which a young child involved in a playground fight was charged with a felony assault, or was charged with "robbery, food stuff" for stealing a bag of potato chips or a cookie.
The city "has not done anything to bring sanity to the juvenile law enforcement practice," said Daniel Arshack, who represents the 11-year-old boy assaulted in 1984. "Someone needs to be able to distinguish between criminal acts and childhood play and childhood fights."
U.S. Marshal Herbert M. Rutherford III said he knew nothing about the incident, about which Urbina is seeking more information. But Rutherford added that it highlighted his concern about the confinement of juveniles.
Rutherford said the U.S. Marshals Service did not want to hold any juveniles in the same area as adults or be responsible for them, but he said the city's refusal to take over that responsibility left the agency with no option.
"It is not in the best interest of juveniles," Rutherford said. "Often when a juvenile is brought to us we have not been informed about his age, the charges against him, or any of the background . . . . If I had a son I would not want him held in that facility."
Late last year the U.S. Justice Department warned city officials that it would lose more than $200,000 in 1986 federal grant funds because the facilities for holding juveniles were "inappropriate" and exposed juveniles to regular contact with adult offenders. This year a deputy marshal was charged with sexually assaulting a girl in the cell block.
It was not clear yesterday why the 12-year-old was detained in the cell block Tuesday. Unless charged with attempting or committing homicide, rape, armed robbery or burglary, a juvenile typically is not taken into custody but is issued a citation and asked to appear before a hearing commissioner with a parent at a later date.
In this case, however, a custody order for the boy's arrest was issued by a Superior Court judge, requiring police to bring the boy to the courthouse. Details of the case are not available, as juvenile court records are confidential.
Juveniles who arrive at the courthouse typically are brought to the office of the corporation counsel, where a decision is made whether to prosecute. Police and a court social worker must approve detention of a juvenile in the cell block, according to a corporation counsel source.
Police regulations formulated after the May 1984 assault require that the ranking district officer approve requests to detain children under 13 and urge consideration of releasing the child to a relative, having a police officer wait with the child in the courtroom, or asking for the hearing to be expedited.
A police spokesman, however, said yesterday that when a custody order is issued the arresting officer merely "drops the child off with court authorities, and our responsibility ends there."