Juvenile Court Judge Kevin Dougherty doesn't mince his words with the young people who stand before him. He tells it straight. He yells. It's hard-core tough-love from a man who obviously cares about the troubled and punk kids who flow through his courtroom. Good on him.
He dished out plenty of red-faced anger Thursday to the two teens and an 11-year-old charged with beating four people in the July 29 Center City attacks. He voiced the frustration so many Philadelphians feel about these teen mobs.
"Philadelphia will not be a laughing stock because a few individuals who decide to hunt human beings and laugh about it," he said.
But, amid the blistering words, he also doled out what seemed like an appropriate blend of punishment and services that might put these kids on a better road.
He went hardest on the group's 17-year-old ringleader, who threw the first punch of the night and later laughed in a police officer's face as a man lay bleeding badly in the street.
"Don't lie to me," Dougherty warned the teen, who then admitted to instigating the attacks, only to then deny it, before admitting it again.
"I see I'm not going to get far with you," Dougherty said. "Sit down."
The judge ordered the teen to a state juvenile detention facility, where he could be held until 21.
He went a little easier on the 16-year-old, sending him to a residential school for delinquents.
But it was most interesting watching the court deal with the 11-year-old, who joined the group that night after sneaking out of a Bible School class and meeting his older cousin, the 16-year-old, on a Frankford playground. Once downtown, the 11-year-old tried ripping a man's bag away as the teens beat him on the ground.
Dougherty hammered the child's family for not keeping better watch of their son.
"An 11-year-old was running the street like a feral child," he said.
After ordering a behavioral evaluation for the child, which will help the court decide what kind of punishment/treatment is appropriate, Dougherty had to rule on whether to send the child back to a juvenile detention facility or home with his family.
He grilled the family again:
"The concern I have is that no one can tell me how an 11-year-old left a school, went to a playground, rode the EL downtown, and terrorized human beings," he said to them.
But he said, while deciding the child's eventual punishment, he did not want to keep the boy in a facility where he was likely to learn more bad behavior.
He interviewed the child's grandmother. She is in her sixties and has nine children of her own, forty-five grandchildren, and sixteen great grandchildren. She has helped raise a lot of her grand babies, she said. Currently,two of her grand-kids live with her.
How old are they? the judge asked.
"27 and 29," the woman answered.
"God Bless you," Dougherty said.
For now, he placed the child in his grandmother's care until the behavioral evaluation is completed later this month.
"I'm not sure if I'm sending you home for good," the judge told the 11-year-old. "How does that make you feel?"
"Not good," the child replied.
"But the people you hurt didn't feel good either," the judge said.
Jeremy Schenkel, 23, who was attacked by the teens that night, said afterward that he agreed with the punishments.
"The youngest kid needs a chance," he said.