By Jim Hannah
Enquirer staff writer
COVINGTON - One of the teenagers accused of violating the civil rights of a black family in Boone County will face federal charges.
"It is very rare for us to move forward on a juvenile in federal court," said Gregory Van Tatenhove, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky. "Typically, we look at the state system to prosecute juveniles, but because of the seriousness of the allegations here, we do intend to move forward with the juvenile in this case."
Out of the 70,092 criminal cases prosecuted in federal court last year across the nation, only 185 - less than 1 percent - were juvenile cases. Van Tatenhove said his office has not prosecuted a juvenile since he was appointed to the Eastern District in September 2001.
Van Tatenhove said he approved the prosecution of the juvenile because "the symbolism of this one is very concerning, and one we take very seriously." He said charges might be filed against a second juvenile believed to be involved but he doesn't anticipate trying either as an adult.
Boone County Commonwealth's Linda Tally Smith has complained that the juveniles would likely have faced only misdemeanor charges in state court.
Van Tatenhove said he couldn't discuss the details of the case, noting that records are generally sealed in juvenile cases. What is known about the juvenile case is included in the FBI affidavit filed against the two adults charged in the civil rights case.
Agent Michael Shafer said in the affidavit that one juvenile helped Matthew T. Scudder, 18, of Hebron build and burn a cross July 2 on the lawn of a black family living in Boone County.
The following day, the affidavit said, Scudder and the juvenile were joined by Jimmy D. Foster, 19, of Independence and a second juvenile. The four went back to the family's home donning white hoods, according to the affidavit. Scudder and the juvenile, who are accused of taking part in the cross burning, allegedly yelled racial slurs and threw rocks at the family's car.
In a similar case in California, the Sacramento Bee reported on May 5 that a 16-year-old high school junior was sentenced to 12 to 18 months in a juvenile facility for burning a cross on a black family's lawn. An adult was also charged in participating in that cross burning.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner, who helped prosecute the Sacramento case, said a juvenile faces a different set of procedures than an adult.
"The federal juvenile system is really oriented towards rehabilitation," Wagner said. "It is completely different than with adults."
He said a juvenile has a right to a trial before a judge, but not a jury.
The teen must be charged under the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. So, instead of being charged as adults are, with a civil rights violation, they're charged with being delinquent.
Rather than time in prison, the act calls for official detention.
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