NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) - A Niagara Falls police captain has strong thoughts on New York's "Raise the Age” law. The relatively new law prevents 16-year-olds from being charged as adults, and starting in fall 2019, that will apply to 17-year-olds, too.
Chief of Detectives Captain Kelly Rizzo believes a recent crime spree might have been prevented to some degree if officers had been able to handle at least one of the suspects as an adult.
Starting June 4, the several-day crime spree that police say involved the same two teenagers started at the Niagara Falls Wal-Mart parking lot, when out-of-town visitors reported to police they were threatened by people with a gun and then chased in a minivan.
The minivan the victims described was later found, and a 16-year-old behind the wheel and 52-year-old Diane Brown were detained. After threatening to assault officers, the 16-year-old was released to his father.
The next day at 19th Street and Cudabeck, officers spotted the same minivan again, and a 16-year-old and 15-year-old were found in possession of drugs and the gun police was brandished at the Wal-Mart.
The same teens were later accused of assaulting a 50-year-old man outside of the Main Street Burger King,
Police officers had to release the teens each time they got in trouble because of state laws that protect juveniles, and Captain Rizzo says each of these instances is an example of why Raise the Age is flawed.
“The 16-year-old is being treated like we used to treat 15-year-olds, and we really believe that if it was the way it was just last year, we would have been able to take enough action on the 16-year-old that it probably would have thwarted the 15-year-old,” Rizzo said.
Again, Raise the Age took partial effect last year. It means 16-year-olds can’t be charged as adults, and starting this fall, 17-year-olds will not be charged as adults either.
“While I can understand the concept behind the change, what bothers me is that we're heading more toward everything being a black and white issue, and I think we were better served when the judges were able to rely on their experience and their wisdom,” Rizzo said.
On June 6, police believe the same teens robbed and assaulted a couple with metal pellet guns on Willow Avenue.
Of this incident, Rizzo wrote to media in a press release,
"After committing this crime, the two suspects, who are clearly not descendants of Einstein, left the very intoxicated female that was with them, in a fenced in backyard along with the long gun in the 1800 block of Willow Ave. and then went to buy pizza slices in a pizzeria just 500 feet in a straight line from their assault."
“When the police officer responded to take that report, he observed muzzle flash and heard gunshots coming from one block down the street, immediately jumped in his car and headed that way,” Rizzo said.
Farther up Willow, police say a different couple was investigating why the teens’ drunk friend – who turned out to be Diane Brown from two days prior – was on their property. The teens returned for their friend and then threatened the couple.
The property owner shot both of them in self-defense, and responding officers recovered the pellet guns used in the assault down the street.
“We had to basically chase these two individuals around for four days and not really work on any other incidents until we could get these kids under control,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo believes had his department been able to hold them earlier in the week, they might not have gotten shot.
One teen committed enough violent crimes to be held on bond, and the other is still in hospital. Rizzo says both face multiple charges – ranging from first degree assault to attempted robbery – between the newly formed Youth Court and Family Court.
Also arrested throughout the several days was Brown, who owned the minivan that contained drugs and a gun and was allegedly used at the Wal-Mart on June 4. She’s charged with Acting in a Manner Injurious to a Child under 17, a Class A misdemeanor for her letting the teens use her van in the original incidents. She’s also charged with Criminal Trespass 3rd, a B misdemeanor for being in the enclosed yard without permission during the June 6 incident.
Rizzo wrote the following in the press release that detailed the crimes:
“While most people will realize the obvious; that these two felt they could do anything without any real repercussions, and just continued to commit crimes, it should also be noted that had the 16-year-old been detained on the gun charge as he would have as recently as September of 2018, he would not have been on the street to get shot, and it is likely his 15-year-old partner would not have continued by himself and also not been shot. No matter which side of the fence you are on concerning this issue, liberal or conservative, the law failed miserably in this instance.”