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Juvenile Justice

The 49 year old woman’s voice cracked as she recounted the incident.

“I was afraid to death,” she says. “They call it a petty crime, but you know what, Big crimes start from little crimes.”

Afraid of retaliation from the neighborhood youth, the woman will only do the interview on the condition of anonymity.

The blistering sun over head casts a shadow across her driveway.

Anvil Fisted Al Devine, my trusty friend and sure shooting photog, decides he will videotape the woman’s shadow. He poises the lens over her shoulder capturing her emphatic and emotional diatribe through the subtle and certainly anonymous imagery of waving arms and a bobbing head.

The woman tells me how she was leaving her daughter’s house in Columbia. She describes a young boy, maybe 12 or 13 years of age, in the street, almost stalking her.

The woman is standing beside her economy vehicle. She slaps the side of her small car to reflect how hard the impact on her quarter panel was.

“Thud!”

“That hard?,” I ask.

“Probably harder,” she responds

The woman tells me that the young man swings a bat, striking a ball, that then flies into the side of her car.

“He did it on purpose,” she says. “He was laughing, menacing.”

The woman calls Columbia Police. This is where the story gets interesting.

The woman says the officers arrive and tell her, “We don’t investigate petty crimes.”

Because the woman wasn’t hurt, and because the damage to her car is minimal, and mostly because the officers didn’t witness the alleged crime, the woman says the officers tell her she will have to swear out her own juvenile petition. The woman claims she is told the price to initiate the proceedings is 75 dollars. I have subsequently checked and it is 62 dollars. Still, this is 62 dollars more than most jurisdictions charge to swear out a warrant against a juvenile who has allegedly intimidated a woman and damaged a vehicle.

The woman is frightened and scared and now she feels victimized a second time by the judicial system in Maury County.

To most of us, the juvenile justice system is a labyrinth of procedures that, unless you are immersed in it, probably frighten away the average person.

On the way out of the subdivision, the same young man allegedly raises his baseball bat again, and makes a threatening gesture toward the lady. This time the police officers are driving behind and witness the demonstrative show of defiance. As they should, the officers reportedly stop and interview the young man, getting his name. No other action is taken.

According to their boss, the officers supply the woman with the name of the young man so she can use it in the report she is told to file on her own. Once again, the thought of spending 75 dollars to file a report for something she feels the officers should do for free, fills her thoughts.

To this woman, the juvenile process is arduous and complicated and the woman drives away, never filling out any report, feeling like the system let her down.

To protect and serve.

The words emblazon the sign at the Columbia Police Department.

I look at those words several times as I interview Columbia Police chief Barry Crotzer.

I’ve known Crotzer a long time and I consider him a straight shooter. I ask some direct questions and he doesn’t mince words.

“The police chief tells me that his officers do investigate misdemeanor crimes and no officer would have told the woman they don’t. He also says his men, didn’t see the crime, but they did talk to the young man, eventually supplying the woman with the youth’s name so she could file her juvenile petition.

When asked about the expense, the chief says it is not his position to comment on whether it works or doesn’t work. He tells me that is just the way it is, and his officers handled the situation appropriately.

I tell the chief the system might be Messed Up, because it gave a frightened woman the impression she had to be injured or have sustained more serious damage to get the police to take her crime seriously.

The chief nods that he can see where she might feel that way, but he says his officers are following the law as it is in Maury County and he suggests that I talk to someone in the Juvenile Justice System for more procedural answers.

I go to the Maury County Courthouse and talk with Jackie Wilson. Wilson is an affable man who wears fatigue pants, a 9 mm, and a t shirt with Y.S.O. (youth services officer) across the chest.

Wilson tells me that the woman should have come to his office and presented her case. He tells me that, after hearing her side of the matter, the judge might have waived the 62 dollar fee. He says the judge might have also stipulated that, the offender, if found guilty, be held responsible for the court costs after the case was adjudicated.

I tell Wilson that the woman is not as sagacious as he on matters of juvenile justice. He agrees that it can be complicated, but again stresses that she should have filed the report with his office.

Wilson tells me that they follow the law when it comes to the court fees. When asked why they do it this way, he tells me simply, “that is just the way it is done.”

I check many other middle Tennessee jurisdictions, and explain this very scenario to the clerk’s and court officers who answer the phone. None of them, say they would have made the woman get her own juvenile petition at the cost of 62 dollars.

When Jackie Wilson tells me that is just the way they do it, I tell him that maybe the way they do it is Messed Up. Wilson says he doesn’t agree, showing me the Tennessee Code Annotated that allows for such a fee to be processed.

Back in the driveway, the woman in the shadow tells me that Maury County must change how they do business because the victims are being victimized twice.

“It sends the message, if you have money you can get justice” the woman says. “It’s messed up that I don’t have 75 dollars ($62)” she says the sun blaring down on her sullen face.

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