October 20, 2013

Cops, courts still dealing with aftermath of car thefts

Rachel Brown

— Some of the individuals didn’t even notice they’d been robbed or that their cars had been broken into.

Others would later find their stolen cars abandoned.

Now, time is nearing for a group of six teenagers who police say stole multiple vehicles and who reportedly admitted to breaking into about 100 others over a period of at least two months to face the justice system.

The Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office arrested the six teens in mid-September after department officials said they admitted to breaking into cars at Walnut Square Mall and neighborhoods throughout the county, as well as stealing several vehicles.

Only one of the six —17-year-old John Parrish of Roberts Circle in Dalton — was publicly named. The other five — three 14-year-olds, a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old — were charged as juveniles.

District Attorney Bert Poston said the younger defendants’ cases will remain in Juvenile Court as there are no plans to try them as adults. Parrish’s case is tentatively scheduled to go before a grand jury later this month where a panel will decide whether to indict him. A woman who said she is Parrish’s mother on Friday declined to discuss the case except to say that her son is in a youth detention center.

Parrish was charged with three counts of theft by taking an automobile, two counts of second-degree burglary and criminal trespass. Sheriff’s Office Lt. Nancy Chadwick described the group of teens as a theft ring. Not all participated in each of the alleged crimes for the 14 incidents the department documented.

“The charges were one burglary in the first degree, seven auto thefts, two theft by taking misdemeanors, five burglaries in the second degree and one criminal trespass,” Chadwick said.

Exactly how much the teens are accused of stealing over the summer isn’t known. Dalton Police Department spokesman Bruce Frazier said the teens admitted to breaking into at least 100 vehicles, some of which were inside the city limits, but investigators were never able to match all of those alleged break-ins back to reported cases.

“They were checking unlocked cars and taking, in most cases, change or things that wouldn’t be noticed until much, much later,” Frazier said, “so we weren’t even able to confirm what actually happened.”

The police department did get involved when the group allegedly stole three cars. All those vehicles were eventually recovered, Frazier said, apparently after the suspected thieves tired of their joy rides or the vehicles got stuck somehow.

Easy targets

Incident reports from those instances and from the sheriff’s office show many of the break-ins were from easy targets. Often the vehicles were unlocked, sometimes even with keys in sight.

Conasauga Circuit Juvenile Court Administrator Robbie Walka said state law and rules of the court prohibit her from discussing the cases of the juveniles allegedly involved in the theft ring, but she did go into some detail on what consequences, in general, teens who commit crimes can face.

In Juvenile Court, those facing allegations technically aren’t ever “found guilty,” Walka said. Instead, they’re “adjudicated delinquent” if the court determines the youth committed a crime. For practical purposes, it may be the same, but the guilty youth won’t have to face a lifetime of consequences of, for example, having to circle “yes” on job applications that ask if they’ve ever been found guilty of a crime.

Walka said there are several factors that play into the consequences a juvenile might face for committing a theft, including whether they’ve been adjudicated delinquent before, how many thefts they committed and how much they took. At any rate, she said, the focus of Juvenile Court is rehabilitation rather than punishment. Consequences for committing crimes can include court-ordered counseling, making restitution, written apologies, community service, up to five years in a juvenile detention center and the parents losing custody of the child or other actions.

“A kid has to do something extremely serious” to face confinement, she said. Theft alone, Walka said, probably wouldn’t send a child to detention, although every case is different.

Because Parrish is an adult, the outcome of his case will be part of the public record. Whatever happens to the younger five teens, because of privacy restrictions written into state law, it’s unlikely members of the general public will ever know the outcome.