Sunday, November 18, 2018
News Roundup

Isaiah Battle, county's biggest car thief, sentenced to 20 months in prison

LARGO — Isaiah Battle, who at 15 years old became the most arrested car thief in Pinellas County, was sentenced to 20 months in prison Monday.

At an emotional hearing that in many ways served as an indictment of the juvenile justice system, Isaiah also received four years probation.

"In Pinellas County, youth stealing cars, fleeing from police, and getting in crashes is out of control," said Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Coyler. "This is extremely concerning behavior that puts everyone at risk.

"The only way to ensure the safety of our community," she said, "is for Mr. Battle to be locked up."

HOT WHEELS:Read the revealing series on juvenile car theft in Pinellas

Isaiah was facing up to six years in prison after pleading guilty in June to grand theft auto, fleeing and eluding, and driving without a license. He stole an Acura in January, less than a year after his sister died in a stolen car, and five months after his release from a high-risk program for juveniles.

WRONG WAY:His sister died stealing cars. Why didn't the No. 1 car thief stop?

Despite his age, prosecutors charged Isaiah as an adult. They argued that the death of his sister, as well as his experiences with the juvenile system, hadn't been enough of a deterrent.

Isaiah's public defender said he agreed that the system had let Isaiah down. But he asked Judge Frank Quesada to give both Isaiah and the Department of Juvenile Justice another chance by sending Isaiah back to a juvenile judge for his sentencing.

"I know my juvenile history is crazy long," Isaiah, now 16, told the court. "I fell into some bad habits. ... I was doing what everyone else was doing."

The death of his sister, Dominique, "hurt me and my family so bad," he said. "I just didn't know how to cope."

Isaiah said seven months in a jail cell has given him time to think.

"Being in county jail has helped me realize life is short, and I want to turn my life around," he said.

In a rare move that spoke to the urgency of the auto theft problem in Pinellas, State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, appeared to speak on Isaiah's behalf. He told the court that the teenager was "too young to give up on."

"The court has some responsibility. ...What did we not provide for him during these six months that didn't catch his attention?" said Rouson, referring to Isaiah's time in a juvenile program. "And if the system bears responsibility for not reaching him at the point that we had him, I'm asking you to give him another chance."

Isaiah's mother, Yashica Clemmons, said her son stole cars to escape the pain of growing up without a father.

"I had to be the mother and the father and I did the best I could," she said. "So sometimes the lights got cut off, or the water got cut off, or the rent wasn't paid because I had to feed my children."

Isaiah was traumatized after Dominique's death, Clemmons said. She struggled to find free therapy services for him, unable to afford to pay a grief counselor.

"He took it really hard when he lost his sister," she said. "He was not all right. And to this day he might not be all right."

But prosecutors argued that the juvenile justice system had been a revolving door without consequences for Isaiah, whom police arrested eight times for grand theft auto in 2015. Isaiah was also charged with carjacking after he dragged a St. Petersburg woman across the street in her own vehicle.

Isaiah's story, and the limits of the juvenile justice system — which can only hold thieves for a maximum of 21 days, and often releases them within hours — were prominent components of a recent Tampa Bay Times series, "Hot Wheels."

Reporters found that kids in stolen cars crash every four days in Pinellas, killing themselves and injuring innocent drivers. Earlier this month, three boys died when the stolen Ford Explorer they were driving sped over 100 mph and crashed into a man driving to work.

In 2015, more kids were arrested in Pinellas for grand theft auto than any other county in Florida and most cities nationwide, including Los Angeles and Baltimore.

"I will say I feel sorry for Mr. Battle, because I do feel the juvenile system let him down a little bit," said Coyler, the assistant state attorney. She read from a statement written by Isaiah, in which he said he kept stealing cars because he knew he would serve 21 days and then get out.

"Right now I don't know there's anything we can do about it because he's right: You're held for 21 days and then released back to that home environment," Coyler said. "There's no real consequences. Except for now there is. There are now real consequences."

Isaiah will get credit for seven months he has served in county jail, meaning he will serve about a year in state prison. As a "youthful offender," Isaiah can face the full six-year prison term if he commits another crime while on probation. If he steals another car, the judge said, Isaiah could face 10 years for this charge and five additional years for the new charge.

Christian Allen, an official with DJJ, said Isaiah continued to skip school after being released from its program last summer. His grade-point average was below a 1.0, and he did not take advantage of mentoring opportunities.

"We can only do so much to motivate a youth in the community," Allen said.

Quesada said he could not in good consciousness send Isaiah back to the juvenile system. The judge urged him to get his GED while in prison, noting that the boy was at a "high risk to re-offend even now as you stand before me."

"Their recommendation to do it all over again and expect different results leaves a lot to be said."

Contact Lisa Gartner at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @lisagartner.

Comments
Bucs-Giants: Grading Tampa Bayís 38-35 loss

Bucs-Giants: Grading Tampa Bayís 38-35 loss

Jameis Winston rallied the Bucs after Fitzpatrick was benched in the third quarter.
Updated: 2 hours ago
Bucs-Giants: Jason Pierre-Paulís Meadowlands return lives up to the hype

Bucs-Giants: Jason Pierre-Paulís Meadowlands return lives up to the hype

The Bucs defensive end was received well, even cheered by Giants fans at times, while he logged 1-1/2 sacks of Eli Manning and seven tackles.
Updated: 3 hours ago
Bucs-Giants: Tight end O.J. Howard does not return after injuring ankle

Bucs-Giants: Tight end O.J. Howard does not return after injuring ankle

O.J. Howard, who was second on the Bucs with 78 receiving yards on six receptions, was injured on the Bucs' final touchdown drive of the day.
Updated: 3 hours ago
Man killed in shooting at Cedar Hollow Apartments on Friday

Man killed in shooting at Cedar Hollow Apartments on Friday

A man was killed at the Cedar Hollow Apartments in Pinellas Park late Friday.
Updated: 4 hours ago
Giantsí Odell Beckham, Jr., does his best Warren Sapp dance after scoring against Bucs

Giantsí Odell Beckham, Jr., does his best Warren Sapp dance after scoring against Bucs

After catching an eight-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning late in the third quarter, Odell Beckham, Jr., had a special Bucs-themed celebration planned.
Updated: 5 hours ago
Lightning journal: 20 games in, who is this team?

Lightning journal: 20 games in, who is this team?

The Lightning has consistently been at the top of the league, but that doesn't mean there aren't questions.
Updated: 5 hours ago
Bucs-Giants: Running back Peyton Barber has career day in Tampa Bayís loss

Bucs-Giants: Running back Peyton Barber has career day in Tampa Bayís loss

Peyton Barber ran for a career-high 106 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, the second career 100-yard game for the third-year back.
Updated: 6 hours ago
Giants QB Eli Manning is the latest to have a career day against the Buccaneers defense

Giants QB Eli Manning is the latest to have a career day against the Buccaneers defense

A by-the-numbers look at the Bucs' 38-35 loss to the Giants on Sunday.
Updated: 7 hours ago
With top player injured, No. 21 USF women roll past Oklahoma

With top player injured, No. 21 USF women roll past Oklahoma

Senior wing Laura Ferreira sinks eight 3-pointers en route to a career-high 34 points
Updated: 7 hours ago
Hudson man dies when Jeep crashes after leaving roadway

Hudson man dies when Jeep crashes after leaving roadway

The man's jeep struck a fence on the west shoulder, collided with a tree and overturned.
Updated: 8 hours ago