Wealthy teen’s case in fatal crash shows failures in county’s juvenile halls, sentencing injustices

Wealthy teen’s case in fatal crash shows failures in county’s juvenile halls, sentencing injustices

After months of protests and outrage from the Latino community in Los Angeles, the son of a millionaire businessman was sentenced to seven to nine months in a juvenile camp after the teen’s Lamborghini SUV slammed into a woman’s car at over 100 mph, nearly splitting it in half and killing her at the scene. 

The family of 32-year-old Monique Munoz demonstrated for justice in the months leading up to the teen’s sentencing and for days outside of the Inglewood Juvenile courthouse. The teen’s lawyer, Mark Werksman, argued for probation or a “private program” versus time spent in a juvenile camp.

Karen Schiltz, a psychologist, testified during sentencing, arguing that the teen (who was 17 at the time of the crash) had likely suffered from autism for most of his life and therefore shouldn’t be held in a juvenile camp, saying he would probably be “victimized.”

But despite arguments from the teen’s lawyer and Schiltz, the judge ordered that real estate magnate James Khuri’s son spend the next several months behind bars and then serve four years of probation for his irresponsible and negligent behavior. 

“[The driver] needs to be held accountable the same as any other kid who appears in this court,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Sabina Helton said during his sentencing. She added that there had been a “consistent lack of accountability” during the boy’s life. 

So where is this privileged boy heading? Well, it’s not a great place—not for wealthy white teens, and certainly not for the majority Black and brown youth being held there.

In September, the California Board of State and Community Corrections ruled that the county’s juvenile facilities were unfit to house underage offenders. The county gave Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar and Central Juvenile Hall in Boyle Heights, California, 60 days to remediate numerous violations or remove the young people. 

This is the first time since the independent oversight body was created in 2012 that it has ruled a California juvenile hall ill-suited for housing young offenders. 

Both Los Angeles County facilities are part of the largest juvenile system in the nation, and during reviews in September, board inspectors found such issues as failure to complete health assessments (it is a pandemic by the way) and insufficient documentation for placement into solitary confinement. Both halls hold around 254 young people per day, with 242 of them being Black or Latino, according to a June report.

The Los Angeles Times reports that in June, there were 71 documented cases of use of force, 11 involving pepper spray—the use of which was found “inappropriate and avoidable” by the county inspector general in 2018. 

The facilities are currently operating under a settlement agreement with the state attorney general’s office, with a four-year plan to reduce violence against those being held, increase educational and mental health services, and create a more stable setting. 

The wealthy Los Angeles teen will join the other 90% of young people housed at Barry J. Nidorf with an open mental health case, according to the county’s Department of Mental Health, as reported in 2019

Within the next five years, the probation department’s juvenile division will be replaced with a new Department of Youth Development, according to the Times. 

But five years is a long way off, so for now the millionaire’s son is heading to a place where he’ll have to face what so many Black and brown underage people have been living with for years: a criminal justice system that should be rehabilitating people, but is instead treating them like animals.

“When I grew up in Los Angeles, California was at the forefront of progressive reforms, including a juvenile justice system committed to helping troubled youths develop knowledge and life skills to raise the odds that, upon release, they would not end up behind bars again. But in the 1980s we shifted course …The mission of rehabilitation got replaced by a culture of punishment … It is only by charting a new future that we can return Los Angeles’ youth probation system to a position it has held in the past — that of a national leader and model of best practices,” Mark Ridley-Thomas, chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors said in 2013. 

To further prove the point that corruption is still alive and well in Los Angeles, Ridley-Thomas, now an Los Angeles city councilman, was charged last week along with former University of Southern California Dean Marilyn Louise Flynn in a 20-count indictment alleging that he steered millions of dollars in county contracts to Flynn’s department so she could help get his son into graduate school with a full ride. 

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