SUNDAY EDITION | Police official pitches for statewide curfew in - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SUNDAY EDITION | Police official pitches for statewide curfew in wake of mob violence

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A group of juveniles raided Bader's Market on South 1st Street on March 22. A group of juveniles raided Bader's Market on South 1st Street on March 22.
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- A deputy chief of Louisville Metro Police says part of the city’s response to the March 22 mob violence involving hundreds of teens downtown should be advocacy of a statewide curfew that would require juveniles under 16 to be in by 10 p.m.

Deputy Chief Yvette Gentry mentioned the statewide curfew in an internal memo summarizing how police handled the March 22 incidents, which began at Waterfront Park, and how the police should move forward. WDRB obtained the memo in an opens records request.

In a follow-up interview, Gentry said a state law would “have more teeth” than Louisville Metro’s curfew ordinance, which has been used sparingly and with little effect.

But a statewide curfew is a longshot in Frankfort, and officials from the courts, police and mayor’s office are also looking at ways to beef up the local ordinance which prohibits people under 18 from being out after 11 p.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends.

“We’re seeing younger and younger kids – kids 12, 13 years old – out late at night,” Gentry said in an interview.

She pointed to the March 16 stabbing of a teen and wounding of another in which several juveniles were involved in an altercation with a man after midnight  on a TARC bus.

“Is it reasonable for a 12 year old to be out at 1 a.m.? Let’s rethink this thing entirely.”

Gentry thinks Louisville’s curfew is difficult to enforce and, at best, lightly punishes the adult with no penalty for the child.

The local ordinance, passed in 1997, is “bare-bones” and “weak,” Dave Mutchler, president of the River City Fraternal Order of Police, told Metro Council members during a hearing in March.   

Few Louisville parents have faced the consequences of their kids’ curfew violations. A WDRB.com review of more than 500 curfew citations written since 2009 found judges dismissed almost all of them. Many cases are dismissed within seconds without the parent even appearing before the judge.

In 2011, 107 parents or guardians were cited for their child being out past curfew. Four of those cases ended in guilty pleas, usually a small fine and court cost.

In 2012, 114 parents or guardians were cited and only three of the cases ended in guilty pleas, according to court records.

While parents can be fined up to $500, typically the harshest punishment a parent receives is a lecture from the judge.

Last February, for example, District Court Judge Stephanie Pearce Burke told the parent of a 17-year-old who had been caught out at 5 a.m. that “obviously this is way past curfew and you are responsible,” according to a video of the hearing.

The judge told the parent that the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services could be called if there was a pattern of such behavior. With that, the case was dismissed.

Another parent came in front of District Judge Donald Armstrong in June 2013, asking the judge of her 15-year-old, “She’s bad, can you help me?”

Armstrong said she could take out a “beyond control petition” for help from authorities with controlling her child, if she wanted.

“Good luck to you; case dismissed,” he said.

Gentry believes getting legislators involved in a statewide effort could put more focus on the issue and bring about a more effective law with tougher penalties.

“I feel this could get some support,” she said.

But a statewide curfew would be a longshot, said Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

“I think it would be challenging,” he said, noting that other communities likely don’t have the same problems Louisville has. “Why do we need it? That would be my question.”

Meanwhile, local officials are working towards beefing up and better enforcing the Louisville ordinance.

Gentry recommended in another internal memo that Louisville adopt a curfew similar to Philadelphia’s, which is 9 p.m. in “problem zones” with “hefty fines for parents whose children (are) found in violation.”

Police officials are meeting with the Jefferson County Attorney’s office next week to discuss, in part, how to better enforce the current curfew

Prosecuting the law is difficult because it requires proving the parent knew the juvenile was out past curfew, and the law contains several exceptions, such as for school-sponsored events, said Jessie Halladay, a spokeswoman for County Attorney Mike O’Connell.

However, Halladay said, “because of this new attention and talk about curfew law, our office has had a supervisors meeting and are watching for these cases, looking at the evidence. We will be trying to enforce the fine. .. and will talk with police” on what kind of information is needed to make a better case.

Halladay said police may even besubpoenaedd to testify in curfew cases, something that hasn’t happened before largely because they are minor offenses.

“We are doing some things to look at them more seriously,” she said.

Mayor Greg Fischer has also mentioned enhancing the city's curfew law.

Chris Poynter, a spokesperson for the mayor, said the office is in discussion with police, prosecutors and youth advocates.

“We have lots of ideas but we don’t have a solid recommendation yet,” he said.

Poynter and other officials all said the curfew is just one piece of a very complicated issue, but could be an important tool.

“I know some people question the effectiveness of it,” he said, but added that it gives police a reason to contact parents when they see a juvenile out late at night.

Among those who have questioned the current ordinance is Metro Council member Barbara Shanklin.

At a March 26 meeting of the Metro Council’s public safety committee, Shanklin told Police Chief Steve Conrad the current ordinance “doesn’t have any meat to it. If it doesn’t hurt your pocket, I can bring a kid home 1,000 times and mom is not going to say anything. But the first time mom has a fine, she’s going to get little Johnny. …It’s already on the books. It just needs to be enforced.”

Conrad has said the department is working with the county attorney to see if there are any changes that could be made to the curfew ordinance that would allow police to change the hours or set up restrictions to specific locations.

“I think those are some contingencies that would be good to have built into the ordinance,” he said.

But Conrad has said the curfew ordinance is limited because police are currently not allowed to take juveniles into custody for breaking curfew. Instead, officers can only stop the juvenile and gather information to cite parents and tell the child to go home.

“We’re looking for ways to make that stronger,” he said.

Mutchler said the curfew law, however, cannot be used on “200 folks” running around downtown, like what happened on March 22, when violence broke out at Waterfront Park and dozens of teens assaulted and robbed people for more than two hours downtown.

Mutchler said groups of juveniles meeting in large groups downtown was “not a new thing.”

Using the open records act, WDRB obtained several police incident reports documenting  attacks by groups of juveniles in the vicinity of Waterfront Park during the past two years. Some took place during the middle of the day -- others after curfew.

Shortly after midnight on Sept. 2, while leaving the Big Four Bridge, a 46-year-old man passed by a group of 12 to 16 juveniles when one of them, estimated to be 9 years old, asked the man if he was drunk.

When the man tried passing through the group, he was struck in the back of the head and knocked to the ground, then repeatedly punched.

A 57-year-old man was attacked at Waterfront Park by five to seven juveniles at about 10:30 pm on May 11, beaten until he could fight his way free.

The incident reports also show police have been called repeatedly on reports of large “disorderly” crowds of juveniles out late at night or early in the morning.

After 11 pm on June 5, 2013, police were called to the White Castle on East Market St. to deal with more than 200 juveniles acting “disorderly” inside the restaurant. Police made one arrest after an officer was punched in the eye, according to an incident report.

Owners of Bader's Food Mart on South 1st Street told council members in March that they see mob-like incidents with juveniles regularly and call in most of them, if not all.

During the March 22 events, about 50 juveniles ran into the store and stole items, broke the door and shoved employees.

In records obtained by WDRB, there were reports of other calls to Bader’s, including April 21, 2012, when about 30 teens refused to leave the store lot after 11 p.m. A few months later, police were called again when more than 50 teens refused to leave.

In one internal memo, Gentry said: “violent and destructive activity tends to pick up at dusk and last until about 1 a.m.”

She said the kids involved in these “flash mobs” are as young as 11 and in groups of up to 30 or more, attacking “law abiding citizens.

“The major concern is that someone is going to get killed during an incident,” Gentry wrote in the memo right after the March 22 attacks.

In that memo, Gentry acknowledged that police didn’t have the manpower to “take kids off the street” and find their parents “to take responsibility for that child and their behavior.

“That is beyond the limitations of our current criminal justice system.”

Of her idea for a statewide curfew, Gentry said in an interview, “I’ve thrown it out there. We need to do something.”

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