By Jim Hannah
Enquirer staff writer
Petra Viveros thought her 17-year-old daughter was tucked safely away for the weekend at Northern Kentucky's juvenile detention center after being caught taking the family car.
She was wrong. Detention center employees released the girl to a 31-year-old female acquaintance without telling the family.
Viveros was outraged, but there was no mistake, and nothing illegal occurred.
The case highlights a "gaping hole" in Kentucky's laws governing juveniles, says Pete Roush, the chief juvenile prosecutor for the Kenton County Attorney's Office.
The law allows a juvenile arrested for a minor traffic violation to be bailed out - usually for just $35 - by anyone 18 or older.
"It is poor legislation at its best," Roush said. "Everyone in this case seemed to have followed the law, but the law is wrong. The law isn't protecting the juveniles anymore."
David Richart, who has helped revise Kentucky's juvenile code several times since 1978, said the law should be changed.
"The law probably needs to be amended to prevent this from happening again," said Richart, the executive director of the National Institute on Children, Youth & Families at Spalding University in Louisville. "Even though I don't agree with the parents' decision to keep their daughter in detention for the weekend, it is their right."
The release of a juvenile to a non-guardian or parent wouldn't happen in Indiana and Ohio, say officials who oversee both states' juvenile detention centers.
"We have very stringent guidelines," said Charmon Shepherd, with the Ohio Department of Youth Services. "We don't even confirm or deny that we have a juvenile in detention unless we can prove we are talking to their parents or legal guardian."
The Northern Kentucky case unfolded like this: The girl was arrested Oct. 22 for driving without a license, after her family reported she had taken the car without permission. She was bailed out a few hours later by her boss at a local restaurant, records show, then spent the weekend at the woman's house without her family's knowledge. The girl's mother, Viveros, said she had planned on leaving the girl at the detention center over the weekend as a lesson. But when she called the detention center the following Monday, she learned that the girl was gone.
Roush said he didn't know about Kentucky's more lenient policy until Viveros called him to complain. Since then, Roush has learned of at least one other similar case in Kenton County. In that instance, a juvenile boy held on a traffic violation got a friend to bail him out before detectives filed a grand theft auto charge against him. The juvenile is now on the run, Roush said.
"I think this is a case where juveniles know the system better than the adults," he said.
Keith Bales, superintendent of the regional juvenile detention center that serves Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties, referred all questions to the Department of Juvenile Justice in Frankfort. Officials in Frankfort didn't return repeated calls Tuesday. It was unclear what the department's internal policy is concerning the bonding out of juveniles, but Roush said it appeared that there was no statewide policy.
Richart said the problem stems from the fact that juveniles charged with minor traffic violations are handled as adults. That means they have the right to be bonded out just as any adult does, or even to place bond on their own behalf to get out of the detention center.
"Even though I'm not a lawyer, I've never understood the rationale behind treating juvenile traffic defendants different than juvenile delinquents," he said
Richart said he would like to think juvenile detention center employees would use better discretion than that of releasing a 17-year-old girl to a 31-year-old woman.
The girl's family agrees.
"They don't have the right to let her leave without my permission. I was very concerned," Viveros said. "The reason we're talking about this is to make sure it doesn't happen to someone else."
The girl's brother, Victor Ochoa, said he asked detention officials why they don't check the identification of people who bail out teenagers.
They answered that they do check IDs, Ochoa said, but that IDs don't help when parents have last names different from their children's.
"They said, 'We cannot run a DNA test on the spot,' " Ochoa recalled. "I said, 'Of course not.' " But the center should be able to do something, he said. People could be required, for instance, to show the teenager's birth certificate in order to post bail, he said.
In an interview, the 17-year-old said her family's concern is misplaced. After her arrest, she called her boss for help, she said. When her employer arrived to bail her out, detention officials took down the woman's name, address, phone number and Social Security number, the girl said.
"I told them she was my boss, and she was going to take me to my house, but I didn't go to my house. I went to her house," the girl said.
She avoided her own home that weekend because she was afraid of her family's reaction to the arrest, she said. By Monday morning, she was back in school.
"I didn't call my boyfriend. I didn't call my friend. I called somebody older than me," the girl said. "I didn't want anyone to know why I was (in jail)."
Staff writer Karen Gutierrez contributed to this report. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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