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Sheriff, DCF confer over juvenile crime

Editor’s note: This story has been updated as of Wednesday morning, Dec. 15.

The threat of juvenile gun violence, and a strategy to address it, moved to the forefront of county law enforcement business last week.

It began with a productive meeting with the secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families. And it ended with the arrest of two juveniles for the armed robbery of a man in Eastpoint.

Sheriff A.J. Smith said he and department staffers sat down with DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris in his office to address criticisms he has voiced publicly about DCF’s handling of Franklin County juveniles who are out of the control of their parents or grandparents.

“She was very responsive. She spent probably three or four hours here and it was a productive meeting,” Smith said. “She listened to all my concerns, and she committed to have somebody hired locally from DCF to be here.”

The sheriff said that as of now, a DCF staffer in Tallahassee must make the four-hour round trip whenever he or she is needed in the county.

“That’s been the problem, not having service,” Smith said. “They need to do their job and be here to respond to our complaints.

“I think this is a step in the right direction,” he said, adding that he has extended an offer to provide office space, if necessary, for the DCF staffer.

“They have got to find somebody first,” Smith said.

Tori Cuddy, communications for DCF’s northwest region, wrote in a Wednesday morning email that “the department is working on several fronts to support Franklin County.

“Our goal is to provide a care navigator position in the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office to assist with resolving issues for families, a dedicated child protective Investigator, and coordinated support through our partner agency, the Northwest Florida Health Network which organizes and delivers behavioral health services in Franklin County. 

“We will be implementing solutions this week and will maintain a continued regular presence in Franklin County to support the families in the area,” wrote Cuddy.

Two youths arrested for armed robbery

The sheriff has been vocal about what he says has been DCF’s mishandling of the case of a juvenile who continues to bedevil his parents and grandparents by committing an escalating series of crimes.

The case took on a sharper edge last weekend, when the juvenile, who has not been named publicly, was one of a pair of 16-year-olds who were arrested for robbing a man at gunpoint at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Eastpoint, near Millender’s Trailer Park. The boys were carrying .38- and .22-caliber handguns at the time.

“I knew it was going to escalate,” Smith said.

The man was robbed of both money and personal items, and since he knew the boys, identified them for law enforcement.

“We started looking for them and an hour or two later we found them hiding in a home in Eastpoint,” said the sheriff.

Investigators turned the two boys over to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, who detained them at a facility in Tallahassee. DJJ has up to 21 days to keep them in custody in Tallahassee or seek an extension with the courts.

“We don’t know where the guns came from,” Smith said. “We haven’t been able to identity where they are stolen from.”

The search for two or three guns that had been stolen from unlocked cars was the reason that law enforcement was able to apprehend the two subjects involved in last weekend’s armed robbery.

“We had gone there looking to follow up on stolen guns from cars,” said Smith. “It was a very productive weekend.”

Deputies ended up arresting one adult, J. W. Glass, and two juveniles on the stolen gun case. It turned out that none of these recovered weapons were the ones used in the armed robbery. He said the department continues to look for a stolen AR-15.

Smith said that while it is lawful to leave a gun unlocked in a car, “it is just stupid. Take your valuables inside and lock your cars. If you leave a gun unattended and a juvenile gets it and does something with it, you can be charged with a crime.”

He said individuals who have guns stolen don’t always report the theft to law enforcement, to better help with recovery.

“Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t,” Smith said. “Sometimes they don’t even know they’re stolen.”

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