A young life slips away

Often in trouble, Baltimore teen eludes juvenile justice follow-up and is found dead on the street

October 31, 2008|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,justin.fenton@baltsun.com

When Baltimore police, prosecutors and juvenile justice officials drew up a list in April of the city's "baddest of the bad" - the kids determined to be the most dangerous and most at-risk - 17-year-old Dontay Monroe made the cut. He had a record that included numerous drug-dealing charges and several outstanding warrants for failing to appear in court or report to caseworkers.

But in the months that passed, as officials knocked on hundreds of doors and rounded up dozens of kids, Monroe couldn't be found.

Last week, children came upon Monroe's body off a paved footpath near Coldstream Park Elementary School. It would take a day to identify him through fingerprints, and police list his last known address as "undetermined."

At a funeral service yesterday, Monroe was recalled as a respectful young man with a knack for computers. But an uncle had a message for the other young people in the crowd.

"The hustle game is the devil's playground," he said. "It may open some doors that are not easy to close back."

Monroe is the latest young person who was supposed to have been under the supervision of the Department of Juvenile Services but who slipped out of the grasp of caseworkers and back onto the streets, only to lose his life. Last year, six of the 18 juveniles killed in Baltimore were under the supervision of the Department of Juvenile Services.

Only two of the 23 killed so far this year had ties to DJS, though Monroe is not counted because he was 18 at the time of his death.

A team of prosecutors, police and juvenile services workers reviewed more than 800 open juvenile warrants starting in April in hopes of serving warrants on kids they determined to be the most dangerous. Most warrants were issued when the youths either failed to appear in court or ran away from a low-security detention facility.

The Police Department's warrant apprehension task force, plus a detail of 18 district officers, two school police officers and DJS caseworkers, canvassed the city looking for youths in May and June, and again during the last two weeks of September, with the second sweep netting 60 high-risk juveniles. The warrant backlog is now under 500.

"The Department of Juvenile Services and the police have really worked together to identify high-risk kids, and for those who have warrants, if community and family members were able to help us locate these young people, maybe the outcomes could be different," said Sheryl Goldstein, the director of the mayor's Office on Criminal Justice.

Monroe, who turned 18 in August, was in "after-care supervision" - the juvenile equivalent of parole - after completing a program with the state. DJS spokeswoman Tammy Brown said she could not comment specifically on Monroe's case. She said that those in after-care supervision who have shown progress are "stepped down" and released back to their communities, though they continue to check in with caseworkers. But they were never able to make contact with Monroe.

"We consider it AWOL status when a kid isn't reporting, when a worker goes out and we can't find him or he's not showing up to court," Brown said. "We do everything we can to coordinate with city police to look for the kid, and he was one of them that had been prioritized."

Monroe was arrested on four separate occasions for drug dealing in 2006 and twice more since then, for assault and attempted robbery. He had no arrests this year.

In a brief interview, Seonta Norris, who identified herself as Monroe's older sister, said he had until recently been staying with friends and family on the Eastern Shore and had returned to Baltimore. Norris said that she had heard that her brother had gotten into a fight in Highlandtown recently and that his death might have stemmed from that incident.

Monroe was found dead at about 7:30 a.m. Oct. 22, near a playground at Coldstream Park Elementary, more than two miles from his family's home in the McElderry Park neighborhood. Attempts to interview other family members were unsuccessful, and police could not provide any details about the homicide investigation.

At yesterday's service, attended by about 100 people, his "Uncle Tony" said Monroe never raised his voice or cursed at his elders. They knew he wasn't perfect, but he had potential, and to that end he planned on attending technical school to pursue a career in computer programming. He was called a "child of love, living in an unforgiving world."

"We often say, 'That's how the game goes,' " said his uncle. "It's not a game, as evidenced by us being here today."

'Baddest of bad'

Police and caseworkers have looked in recent months for youths with outstanding warrants.

* A May - June initiative involved knocking on 1,158 doors and netted 115 arrests.

* A sweep during the last two weeks of September led to arrests of 60 high-risk juveniles.

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