Sunday, May 27, 2018
Public safety

Teen accused in death of security officer had longtime problems, mom says

TAMPA — Larry Brown had numerous arrests and several convictions since his 10th birthday, but it wasn't until a 14-month stint in a juvenile detention center that he got his first diagnosis.

The doctors in that program prescribed the teen Clonidine to combat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, said his mother, Nicole Bailey.

"They gave him that to calm him down," Bailey, 30, said Friday. "He had anger issues." Unbeknownst to Bailey, her son stopped taking his medication at least two weeks ago.

The mother of four found out Tuesday night when Tampa police officers interrogated her son about the killing of Michael Valentin, 38, a Critical Intervention Services security officer who was shot dead at an apartment complex Nov. 21.

Detectives brought Brown to headquarters to question him about a stolen pistol. Twenty-four hours later, he was charged with Valentin's murder and two armed robberies at ATMs.

If the state attorney's office decides, these may be 16-year-old Brown's first adult charges. They would round out a six-year period dotted with 36 charges and 12 felony convictions.

Several area attorneys said Friday that they were surprised that a juvenile had collected such a large array of charges without having previously been charged as an adult and getting significant prison time.

"I'm puzzled by how he slipped through," said St. Petersburg defense attorney Craig Epifanio. "It's very unusual to see a juvenile get beyond three or four serious charges" without being charged as an adult.

But Epifanio said it is the nature of juvenile court to rehabilitate defendants, while adult court seeks to punish. As a result, the juvenile system is more lenient, he said.

"It's about second, third and even more chances," Epifanio said.

Melinda Morris, a defense attorney and former Pinellas-Pasco prosecutor, said she, too, did not understand how Brown had never been tried as an adult, though she said a judgment is difficult without more information about the charges he faced.

"I had represented a juvenile who was 15 years old with no prior record who got charged with robbery with a weapon that they filed right away in adult court," Morris said.

Stephanie Pawuk, a defense attorney and former Pinellas-Pasco prosecutor, said the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice doesn't have enough funding, resulting in more juveniles avoiding lengthy incarceration simply because there isn't a bed in a secure, residential program.

"Now they really don't want to send kids to programs anymore because they don't have the programs available," Pawuk said. "They've closed many of them."

She said she often gets calls from parents who can't control their children. "They want to know if there is a program that their kid can be sent to. And the answer is, 'no,' not anymore," said Pawuk.

Bailey herself went in search of such a program. She said she called the Department of Children and Families three times trying to get help for Brown's behavioral problems. "I wanted him to go to a program or a group home with men around who worked with behavior issues," she said.

DCF came to visit her home once, Bailey said. In the home visit, a caseworker asked Brown if she did drugs, how many people lived in her household and how much income she made. Then the caseworker left and closed the case, Bailey said. Help never came. Brown continued to get in trouble and ended up in court.

Asked about Brown this week, DCF officials said they could not comment.

C.J. Drake, a spokesman for the DJJ, said ample options exist to help juveniles. But Drake said juvenile delinquency has dramatically declined in recent years across Florida. He said the number of juveniles entered in residential programs has fallen by 46 percent in the last five years.

And Drake noted, "Only a judge can sentence a youth to a DJJ residential program."

After an attempted car theft in 2011, a judge sentenced Brown to 14-months in a residential program. His three younger siblings missed their quiet, reserved older brother, Bailey said. While there, he began taking Clonidine and continued after his release in July.

Brown enrolled in Gary Adult High School's GED courses and told his mother he wanted to fix helicopters, planes and rockets. Bailey knows her son had problems but her heart tells her he couldn't have killed anyone. She has hired an attorney from their native Chicago to defend him.

"He wasn't a perfect child, but he wasn't a bad child either," Bailey said. "He was seeking attention."

Times staff writer Jessica Vander Velde and researcher Tim Rozgonyi contributed to this report.

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