Judge denies request to move accused 15-year-old Oxford High shooter to a juvenile facility
Pontiac — An Oakland County Circuit Court judge ruled Tuesday that the county jail is the appropriate place to house accused Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley and denied requests to have him transferred to the county’s Children’s Village juvenile facility.
Judge Kwame Rowe heard arguments on Feb. 22 from defense attorneys and the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office regarding the placement of the 15-year-old charged with fatally shooting four fellow students and wounding six others and a teacher in the Nov. 30 incident at his school. He has been held in the Oakland County Jail since his arrest that day.
Crumbley’s court-appointed attorney, Paulette Loftin did not call any witnesses at the placement hearing but argued keeping the teen in isolation was inappropriate, saying he would receive better care and treatment at Children’s Village with other teenagers.
Federal laws set a high bar for housing a youth in an adult jail instead of a juvenile detention facility unless a judge finds that keeping a minor in an adult facility is "in the interest of justice." Among the factors the judge must take into account are the offender's age, the circumstances of the charges, physical and mental maturity, and current mental state including the risk of self-harm.
There is a 180-day limit unless there is "good cause" for an extension under federal law.
In a 12-page opinion Tuesday, Rowe said after weighing all testimony and evidence he believed “it is in the interest of justice” for Crumbley to remain in the Oakland County Jail.
Rowe noted there have been eight escapes or walkaways from Children's Village in the past nine months and that, along with the facility being understaffed, made him conclude "it is clear that Childrens Village is incapable of safely housing the defendant..."
While in isolation, Crumbley had been "actively communicating with the public –sometimes several times a day" on the Internet and not expressing any mental health concerns, Rowe wrote. In a Jan. 16 email he told someone he was in adult jail and "I got a cell to myself 3 meals a day, a TV to watch and the guards are pretty nice."
Rowe mentioned several delinquent acts noted in Crumbley's journal, emails and texts, including "a plan to kidnap, rape, torture and then kill an unidentified female," Rowe wrote. Crumbley also described how he had created a Molotov cocktail and started a small fire in the woods and described "how he may use the Molotov cocktails during the school shooting.
"Lastly, the Court will note that prior to the alleged incident Defendant killed several baby birds. In his journal he noted he killed '8 infant baby birds by slowly (sic) torturing them until death.'"
"The above prior delinquent acts are of grave concern to this court," Rowe wrote.
In his ruling, Rowe also instructed the prosecutor's office to confer with the Oakland County Jail on whether there is any place to confine Crumbley without continuous 24-hour light.
Captain Tom Vida, supervisor at the Oakland County Jail, testified earlier this month that while Crumbley is being held in isolation in the jail clinic area, a 24-hour light is used to monitor him.
Loftin told Rowe earlier this month that Crumbley has “very little access with anyone” other than a deputy who checks in on him every 15 minutes.
“This extreme isolation is not beneficial whatsoever, and actually harms Mr. Crumbley,” she argued, adding that other than 12 visits from his lawyers and emails from “random” people, he has little contact with the world.
“He doesn’t have the phone numbers of his family members,” she added.
Inmate caseworker Christina Belling said she visited Crumbley for five to 10 minutes daily to assess mental health concerns and found none. She continues to see him twice a week, brought him Harry Potter books to read, and makes sure he has access to a psychiatrist, she testified.
While he was initially placed on suicide watch, with constant supervision, in January Crumbley was reduced to behavior watch, which requires monitoring every 15 minutes.
Crumbley faces 24 felony charges which carry a penalty of up to life imprisonment.
Attorneys have filed intentions to raise an insanity defense on Crumbley’s behalf.
A review hearing on Crumbley's placement is scheduled for March 24 before Rowe. No other court dates have been set, according to the prosecutor's office.