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Byers' Beat: Victory for juveniles; 911 dispatch improvements delayed; guard's condition improves

Missouri Supreme Court orders 17-year-olds to be charged as juveniles; St. Louis misses original deadline to improve 911 dispatch services

ST. LOUIS — Byers' Beat is a weekly column written by the I-Team's Christine Byers, who has covered public safety in St. Louis for 15 years. It is intended to offer context and analysis to the week's biggest crime stories and public safety issues.

A lot has happened on the public safety beat this week.

Here are some of the highlights:

'Raise the Age' in Missouri

For one, 17-year-olds who have been charged as adults for crimes in Missouri since July 1 are about to see their cases get dismissed – but they won’t be avoiding justice altogether.

That’s because supporters of the Raise the Age law won a major victory in the Missouri Supreme Court this week.

The state’s highest court determined legislation passed in 2018 that raised the age of juveniles to 18 from 17 did not include the funding required for the juvenile system to handle an influx of 17-year-olds.

It’s known as an unfunded mandate, and essentially makes laws passed without money attached to them virtually impossible to enact.

The law was supposed to take effect Jan. 1. Without the money, family courts balked at taking cases involving 17-year-olds.

RELATED: 'They have given us a real mess' | Some juvenile courts say they don't have funds to follow new law making 17-year-olds juveniles

So, prosecutors throughout the state including St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner and St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar continued to charge 17-year-olds as adults.

“That was the only way we’re going to hold 17-year-olds who commit felony offenses accountable,” Lohmar said.

Lohmar said he supports raising the age, given all of the research on brain development.

“I think 17-year-olds should be juveniles and there was an unfortunate error in the drafting of the legislation that led to a 6-month period of uncertainty,” he said.

But not every prosecutor in Missouri went the same route.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell and another outstate prosecutor followed the new law at the start of the year, saying juvenile authorities in their jurisdictions had agreed to accommodate 17-year-olds without the extra money to do so.

So, they haven’t charged any 17-year-olds as adults this year.

To force the issue to a head in his county, Lohmar said he asked the public defender’s office to challenge the first case he issued on a 17-year-old this year.

The state legislature fixed the funding issue in the meantime, making the money to house 17-year-olds in juvenile facilities available starting the first day of the fiscal year – July 1.

But Lohmar had issued charges on the 17-year-old before July 1. He argued the charges he filed against the 17-year-old as an adult should still stand.

The Missouri Court of Appeals agreed, and now, so did the Missouri Supreme Court.

That means any juveniles who have been charged with crimes as adults since July 1 must have their cases dismissed.

It will be up to family court authorities to decide whether to refile the charges against them as juveniles.

St. Louis 911 Dispatch plan delayed

Wait times for 911 callers in St. Louis have been in the news a lot this year.

As part of a plan to fix the problem, Public Safety Director Dan Isom vowed to consolidate the city’s three dispatch centers – police, fire and EMS – under one roof.

He said he expected the move to happen this month. With only two days left in October, that doesn’t look likely.

RELATED: St. Louis needs 911 dispatchers. Here's why it's having trouble hiring them.

But Isom says even though city leaders didn't meet their original deadline to put all of the dispatchers in the same location, he believes they met their deadline figuratively speaking.

"We wanted to set some deadline so we could move swiftly, and in terms of the city and the Department of Public Safety, we met that deadline in terms of coming up with a plan to merge," he said.

The hold-up has to do with personnel issues. Specifically, police, fire and EMS dispatchers are in separate employment classifications and have different unions. 

"If we were to get through some of the personnel issues, we could do it today, but we have to go through that process," he said. "Our deadline is as soon as possible."

Isom noted there have been other improvements to the system in the meantime, including an automated message that helps callers choose which dispatch service they need. Until recently, every 911 call came into the police dispatch center and dispatchers would have to direct calls to fire or EMS if the need wasn't for police services.

In one week, Isom said the new system diverted 700 calls to fire dispatchers and between 25 and 50 ended up coming back to police dispatchers.

"That's a pretty low error rate," he said. 

Next up is a plan to create a virtual assistant to answer a non-emergency call, which would eliminate about 100 calls police dispatchers have to answer a day. 

As for a new deadline on merging the 911 dispatchers in the same building, Isom said he hopes it's going to be weeks, not months from now.

"To the public, we’re working through the merger plan, which will create more efficiencies," he said. "We're not standing still to make improvements in our 911 response."

Security guard improves, no charges filed

The security guard who was gravely injured after interrupting car break-ins at Cardinal Glennon earlier this month has shown a slight improvement in his condition.

Police said the 38-year-old remains in critical condition, but is now considered stable. The guard’s family has asked for privacy.

Police say the guard was checking on a suspicious red Kia SUV in the parking lot just after 1 a.m. Oct. 20.

Police sources told 5 On Your Side the driver of the car struck the security guard, which caused him to be thrown onto the hood of the car and then thrown to the ground where he was run over.

RELATED: Charges against woman refused in deadly shooting incident outside Cardinal Glennon

The guard fired five shots at the suspect’s vehicle, police sources said.

Bullet holes in the hood of the suspicious vehicle, a red Kia Soul, show the guard's shots were clustered close together.

The suspect, Anthony Smith, 32, then crashed into a parked car and ran away along with his female passenger.

St. Louis police found Smith lying on the ground at South Grand and Lafayette Avenue near the I-44 overpass suffering from a gunshot wound to the chest. He later died at a hospital.

The man's 26-year-old accomplice initially ran away from the scene as well, but police sources said she tried to return and drive the car away. It was inoperable, and, when she tried to run away again, police used a Taser to subdue her.

Her criminal history includes outstanding bench warrants from St. Louis as well as arrests for drugs, endangering the welfare of a child, and resisting arrest.

Police said they applied for murder, assault, and armed criminal action charges against her with the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office.

In Missouri, an accomplice can be charged with murder if their accomplice is killed while they are committing a felony together.

She has not been charged.

Read more Byers' Beat columns here.