The Arrest Of The Murfreesboro Ten By The Cowardly MPD (Update)
Apr. 25, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Last week, Fault Lines contributor Tara Singh discussed the arrest of the Murfreesboro Ten at Hobgood Elementary School on the grounds of “criminal responsibility for the conduct of another.” The Murfreesboro Police Department’s incredibly asinine judgment call and subsequent adherence to the standard juvenile justice playbook isn’t surprising.
It’s common to waive off an outrageous and inexplicable arrest by telling the public “trust us, we know what we’re doing,” and promise to “look into the matter” while you wait for public outrage to steer in a different direction. This time, it’s a bad call with shady legal reasoning that reeks of utter cowardice and incompetence.
According to Chief Karl Durr’s official statement, the decision to arrest the Murfreesboro Ten at school was their idea. Hobgood Elementary administrators had no say over fitting ten kids with metal bracelets on school property for an alleged video of a “fight” at a basketball game on private property.
It didn’t matter that the parents who’ve seen the video called the incident “harmless pushing and shoving,” or that four of the pint-sized “perps” weren’t present when the fight occurred. These kids needed a lesson in state-approved childhood behavior, and the trauma that can accompany arrest wasn’t a concern for the officers until they were forced into a “sorry” mode by furious parents. Chief Durr’s promise of an internal review rings as hollow as the MPD’s continued cries of “we can’t discuss this right now, but we know what we’re doing.”
Murfreesboro police’s silence in the name of juvenile confidentiality isn’t helping their image or the community’s confidence in their new police chief. In the interests of absolute fairness, Fault Lines contacted the MPD for comment. Major Clyde Adkison, a Public Information Officer for the MPD, said the following when offered a chance to answer questions on the Murfreesboro Ten’s arrests.
[We] have no comment beyond Chief Durr’s official statement. The cases are under judicial review, and juvenile proceedings are confidential…We haven’t told our side of the story, and we won’t comment further until the cases are closed.”
The “story” Durr, Adkison, and the rest of Murfreesboro’s “finest,” won’t tell you is arresting the Murfreesboro Ten on charges of “criminal responsibility for the conduct of others” is legally questionable and mind-bogglingly stupid. It is a criminal offense in Tennessee, but one requiring at least one other charge to even grade as a misdemeanor or felony. If that’s the only charge the Murfreesboro Ten face, the prosecutor is left to argue the elements of criminal responsibility without any statutory or case law guidance on a potential sentence. Attorneys don’t enjoy doubling down on stupid, even if they represent the government. If one of the Murfreesboro Ten’s attorneys challenges the validity of their arrest and detention, the trial will morph into a prosecutor’s worst nightmare, since the arrest and a brief detention are legally questionable too.
Tennessee’s Juvenile Law sanitizes the arrests of minors by calling it “taking” them “into custody.” It’s not called an “arrest” until challenged, but requires the same procedures as adult arrests unless cops have “reasonable grounds” to believe the child would be subjected to an immediate threat to their health or safety if they went home to their parents. If a Juvenile Magistrate or Juvenile Court Judge actually found probable cause to issue arrest warrants bearing the sole charge of “criminal responsibility for the conduct of others,” they either don’t know the law or don’t care, and Murfreesboro’s families would do well to question why an elected judge or appointed magistrate didn’t think before signing those warrants. Carting the Murfreesboro Ten to the local Juvenile Detention Center wasn’t a good idea either, even if they were released to their parents within an hour or two. It’s actually against the law.
One glance at T.C.A § 37-1-114 reveals glaring instances of “shall not be detained.” The first is “[a] child taken into custody shall not be detained…prior to the hearing…unless there is probable cause to believe” the child committed a delinquent or unruly act, or might be subject to some sort of harm if they go home with their family. The second occurrence relevant to the Murfreesboro Ten’s arrests is “[a] child shall not be detained in any secure facility or secure portion of any facility unless” they’re either a serious offender, a repeat offender, awaiting other charges in Juvenile Court, wanted elsewhere for a serious offense, or a runaway.
Even after considering all these factors, the law says there has to be “no less restrictive alternative to reduce the risk of flight or of serious physical harm to the child or others.” Carting the Murfreesboro Ten to kiddie jail might have been convenient for the cops. That convenience doesn’t make it legal, and if there are extenuating circumstances justifying any other action beyond calling the Murfreesboro Ten’s parents at school that day the MPD needs to start talking now. Continued silence in the name of “juvenile court confidentiality” for this matter only serves to erode the public’s trust and widen potential Federal civil liability later.
Last December saw police and district attorneys defer to “Juvenile Court Confidentiality” in the case of a minor’s sexual assault during a basketball tournament. That deference to confidentiality was legally understandable and warranted, as no parent wanted to face an angry mob while their kids faced criminal charges. The victim’s family didn’t need his name publicized either. That still didn’t work for an angry public demanding answers. It even produced perjury charges for investigators. Murfreesboro’s Police are certainly welcome to continue their deference to Juvenile Court’s “confidentiality” as they attempt to cover their asses, but it didn’t work well in Chattanooga. It’s going to work less in Murfreesboro.
UPDATE: Chief Durr finally decided to half-heartedly explain some issues in an interview with The Tennessean. At least two of the Murfreesboro Ten were going to be charged with assault, but weren’t because of their age. He’s intimated at least one of the arrestees is part of a “larger criminal investigation,” which is why there’s such a need for confidentiality. And most importantly, if they didn’t do something to help the “victim” at the center of this debacle, the discussion would be how his department didn’t do their job. Most telling out of all this is Durr’s proclamation he doesn’t know whether his officers violated the law. Whether this is simple cluelessness or absolute dishonesty from Chief Karl Durr remains to be seen. At least he’s “really sorry” the entire incident happened, but the charges won’t be dropped.