A private probation option for Fulton County juvenile offenders may end as one result of outrage over a July 13 murder and robbery at the Capital City country club.
State Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta) said she’ll aim to end the system with legislation after hearing from about 100 residents at a private meeting with Fulton County prosecutors Aug. 8 at the Lodge at Buckhead’s Peachtree Presbyterian Church. One resident called the private probation system “insane” amid comments it could be a danger to both the public and offenders themselves.
“This crime hit me as much as it hit you,” Beskin told the crowd, adding that she “really heard feedback loud and clear today” that the system must change.
However, that was one of the few solid and clear points of potential reforms as the prosecutors debunked some other alleged systemic factors in the murder.
The outrage follows the shooting of Christian Broder, 34, of Washington, D.C., during an armed robbery outside the country club on the Brookhaven/Buckhead border. Broder died several days after he was shot. Two suspects have been charged with felony murder, robbery and related charges: Jayden Myrick, 17, and Torrus Fleetwood, 20.
Myrick was previously convicted of armed robbery at age 14 and could have still been in state prison under a plea deal, according to media reports. However, Fulton Superior Court Judge Doris Downs chose to have him serve over two years in juvenile detention, followed by probation supervised by a private organization called Visions Unlimited, on the hope that he would be rehabilitated. Myrick reportedly was returned to detention for misbehavior, but then was to go back to Visions Unlimited. He did not show up again prior to his arrest in the Capital City crime.
Myrick has not been convicted in Broder’s killing. However, Broder’s family and some Atlanta residents have called for Downs to resign or be recalled, including via an online petition that has garnered over 6,600 signatures, on the premise that releasing Myrick was wrong and led to Broder’s death.
The crime has fed into growing concern about an uptick in theft and burglary, especially in Buckhead. Ann Walsh, a Buckhead resident who led the Aug. 8 meeting, is a member of a large, private Facebook group that exchanges crime information and holds similar private meetings, attracting such officials as Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields. She said she is concerned, as one example, about increasingly brazen thefts at gas stations, where criminals will snatch purses from the front seat of a car during a fill-up.
The Aug. 8 meeting included two Fulton County prosecutors: Lauren McAuley, the deputy district attorney for the juvenile division, and Assistant District Attorney Brendan Daughtery, who prosecutes crimes in Buckhead.
Both said they could not talk about details of the Broder case. But they did speak about the juvenile and adult criminal systems in general, and in part spent the time debunking some audience assumptions about juvenile offenders returning to the streets.
McAuley said a much-criticized “catch and release” system, where a defendant can get out on bond quickly, does not apply in the juvenile system.
And a “point system” used to assess juveniles before initial detention has nothing to do with their sentencing, as is commonly misunderstood, she said.
“It’s not fun being a prosecutor and seeing the same kids come back over and over,” said McAuley, describing a small group of chronic offenders as the main crime problem. Partly to blame is a 2014 juvenile law rewrite, she said, calling it “horribly rewritten because it contradicts itself on every single page.”
“On the flip side, the system actually does work” and often rehabilitates children, McAuley added. “When they say it takes a village to raise a child, it really does.”
McAuley also said Downs’ sentence in the Myrick case was an “abnormality.”
“I think what Judge Downs has done has spoiled the perception of what the majority of judges have done,” she said.
However, McAuley and Daughtery agreed that the system of allowing private organizations to handle probation has serious flaws. Most county governments contract with the state for probation services, but Fulton allows private nonprofits to do it. There is no list of approved contractors and no official vetting, the prosecutors said, beyond whatever questions judges choose to ask.
The description of the system shocked many audience members.
“So they’ll privatize probation but not garbage pick-up?” asked one woman.
“An unvetted agency could be abusing kids, could be starving kids?” asked another. “It’s insane … There’s more oversight in the restaurant business.”
One man suggested having a grand jury review the private probation system.
Others didn’t like the idea of probation at all. “Do the crime, do the time,” one woman said, while a man suggested creating a north Georgia boot camp with “two hours of forced education” and “hard labor … Let that word get out on the street.”
As the meeting concluded, Beskin told the crowd that she had spoken at length that morning with Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard about the situation. She was reading the probation statute on her phone as she spoke and said she would seek legislation to change it.
“But it doesn’t bring Christian Broder’s life back,” she added.