BALTIMORE – A police officer crushed by a stolen Jeep isn't even buried yet, and already authorities in Maryland are blaming each other for having allowed the teenage driver to be on the streets while he awaited sentencing for auto theft.
The state was formally supervising the 16-year-old driver, who is accused of running over Baltimore County officer Amy Caprio on Monday when she approached him outside a home where three teenage accomplices were allegedly committing a burglary.
Dawnta Anthony Harris, a slightly-built ninth-grader, had been assessed to be a high risk by Maryland's juvenile services department. He had a string of arrests for auto theft, and had skipped out of juvenile custody repeatedly. His own mother had asked officials to detain him, hoping to avoid any more trouble.
Despite all this, a judge transferred Harris from a juvenile facility to house arrest with his mother in West Baltimore. He had been fitted with an ankle bracelet that didn't track his whereabouts, simply indicating whether he was inside or outside their apartment in Gilmor Homes, a public housing project on the city's troubled west side.
Days later, Harris went AWOL again. A week after that, he allegedly killed a police officer.
"Our staff did the right thing in this case. They worked with this kid. They tried to re-engage with this kid. And when he didn't re-engage they brought it to the court's attention," said Sam Abed, Maryland's head of juvenile services.
Abed said the court system was responsible for placing Harris on home arrest, prompting a furious response from Baltimore's top prosecutor, and some of the political candidates choosing targets this election year say the governor bears some responsibility.
All four teenagers involved are now charged as adults with felony murder and held in an adult lockup. Prosecutors said the officer's body camera recorded Harris accelerating the Jeep at the officer trying to apprehend him Monday in a suburb northeast of Baltimore. Under the state's felony murder law, if someone is killed during a burglary, accomplices can also be found guilty of the slaying.
"This situation is just sad all the way around," said Harris' mother, Tanika Wilson, speaking through tears on Thursday at the Baltimore office of one of her son's lawyers.
Attorney J. Wyndal Gordon said the state agency tasked with managing and treating youngsters like his client clearly dropped the ball.
"Not only did the Department of Juvenile Services let the mother down, they let Amy Caprio down," Gordon told The Associated Press.
Abed countered that the May 10 decision to put Harris on home arrest was made without his agency's involvement. "The court acted with the state's attorney and the public defender. We were not at that hearing," Abed told reporters.
Marilyn Mosby, the State's Attorney for Baltimore, responded by saying she's "more than appalled, disheartened and perplexed" by an "attempt to shift responsibility away from his department by blaming my office and my attorneys for the release of an alleged murderer."
Abed also said that his staff made "many attempts" to locate Harris after he ran away from home confinement. Documents obtained by the AP suggest that caseworkers with Abed's agency did in fact make a series of efforts to locate Harris after the agency's last contact with him.
Various political hopefuls chimed in. Jim Shea, a Democratic candidate for governor, said there needs to be clear answers and strategies for reform for what he described as a state failure. "Governor Hogan and Secretary Abed must answer questions as to how the system failed and how the state will reform its processes to ensure this tragedy is not repeated," Shea said.
Meanwhile, the officer's grieving loved ones prepared for her funeral on Friday, and Wilson was breaking down in public.
"I did it all when it came to me trying to get my son to get it together," she said, her voice choking with emotion.