Editor’s note: This is the first part of a series in which The Banner will examine juvenile crime and the challenges that law enforcement and other government entities face.
Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff Rene Thibodeaux remains angry over the lack of help from state authorities on the rash of juvenile crimes in the area.
For example, his anger stems from vehicle thefts by three underage males that led deputies and other law enforcement on a parishwide search Christmas weekend.
The vehicle theft at a Waterloo resident led to the arrest of one juvenile, while another turned himself in.
But the lack of space at juvenile detention centers led to the release of both suspects, who were given ankle bracelets for monitoring.
The other suspect remains at large, but lack of help from the state Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) has made it difficult to capture him.
“I made a couple of calls to the OJJ, whom we have not seen or heard from at all since this situation took place. I gave them a little piece of my mind and I think they knew I wasn’t very happy with them,” Thibodeaux said.
OJJ officials told the sheriff that they, too, were looking for the subject, although the sheriff said he has not seen anyone from that office.
“They said they were looking for them, but I’ve been out for a week working 12 to 14 hours a day and I haven’t seen any of their people, and I haven’t heard from any of them,” he said.
Greater Baton Rouge Crime Stoppers has since acted on behalf of Louisiana State Police to put out information on the remaining suspect.
On Dec. 26, deputies spotted the vehicle as it crossed the Audubon Bridge into Pointe Coupee Parish.
As deputies attempted to stop the vehicle, three suspects exited the car and flood on foot. One suspect pulled a weapon and pointed it in the direction of the deputy and shots were fired.
The weapon was recovered at the scene near the suspect, and neither the deputy nor suspect was injured.
The deputy been placed on administrative leave during the investigation.
Thus far, one suspects remains at large – and it’s not the first time he has eluded authorities.
The suspect is a juvenile who is believed to have walked away from three homes and escaped two guarded juvenile facilities – one in Bunkie, the other in New Orleans.
“He’s on the loose and could be armed and dangerous … we don’t know,” Thibodeaux said. “I want him to turn himself in before he gets hurt or someone else gets hurt.
“I don’t want him hurt or one of my deputies hurt over something like this,” Thibodeaux said. “This kind of crime can escalate ... weapons escalate everything.”
The suspect has traveled back and forth between homes of family and friends in Pointe Coupee and East Baton Rouge parishes, Thibodeaux said.
Thibodeaux said he “begged and pleaded” with a family member of the suspect to urge the boy to turn himself in.
The common link between the three suspects is all three have been in the juvenile justice system, placed on probation with a probation officer to follow them.
The closure of juvenile correctional centers in St. James and Assumption parishes has left little or no option on where to house offenders.
In many cases, juvenile offenders get ankle bracelets for monitoring.
“One of those suspects was back home with his parents before we got home – and that’s embarrassing,” Thibodeaux said.
But the juveniles do not charge the bracelet batteries and the officials do not monitor them.
“What you’re dealing with is a broken juvenile justice system, and that came in with prison reform,” Chief Deputy Brad Joffrion said.
“They’re going toward rehabilitation and therapeutic programs rather than incarceration. That’s great, in some instances, but there are some individuals you have to incarcerate.”
Meanwhile, the current system does little to stop the spread of repeat offenders, Thibodeaux said.
“Those young men have all been in the juvenile justice system, placed on probation with a probation officer to follow them,” he said.
“They’re doing nothing to assist us in apprehending this guy and he’s terrorizing our area.”
Thibodeaux, Joffrion and other law enforcement officials refer to a state law legislators approved in 2016 that changed the process on how to crimes committed by 17-year-olds.
Next week: How the state’s “Raise the Age” has brought difficulties for law enforcement across the state.