- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A St. Mary’s teenager admitted her involvement Thursday to charges of second-degree assault and displaying an obscene photograph of a boy, whose father watched the plea hearing and later expressed his disappointment that the girl was sent home.
The 15-year-old girl was one of two girls arrested last month on charges alleging criminal misconduct against the boy from their school. Both girls have been on house arrest as they await hearings in the case, and the 15-year-old was again released to her parents on Thursday, to await a disposition proceeding next month.
St. Mary’s Assistant State’s Attorney John Pleisse said during the plea hearing that the 15-year-old girl “befriended” the 16-year-old boy at Chopticon High School, and that during six to eight encounters between last December and February, she and the other girl engaged in “clearly despicable behavior” with the boy, who has been diagnosed with a form of autism.
The older suspect in the case, 17-year-old Lauren Ashley Bush, has been charged in circuit court with first-degree assault, false imprisonment and inducing the boy to be a subject of a performance depicting sexual conduct and sadomasochistic abuse. Bush’s lawyers have filed a request that the counts against their client, charged from the onset as an adult, be transferred to juvenile court.
Pleisse said at Thursday’s hearing for the younger girl that the acts committed against the boy included threatening him with a knife and kicking him. “All of this was being photographed on [the younger girl’s] cellphone,” the prosecutor said, and the boy was unclothed in one picture that the two girls showed to each other and was “shown to one or more students at Chopticon.”
After the hearing, the boy’s father said outside the courtroom that the revelation of the conduct against his son has made him more concerned about the treatment of other children with similar impairments, by their peers in school.
“I don’t feel safe having her in the community,” he said after the younger girl left the courtroom with her parents, in part on the condition that she have no contact with his son.
St. Mary’s detectives filed district court charging papers last month alleging that cellphone videos showed Bush assaulting the boy at his Mechanicsville home, depicted the boy and the younger girl sitting on a bed with a dog, and recorded the boy walking onto a frozen pond, where he repeatedly fell through the ice and got back out on his own.
“He still considers them friends,” the boy’s father said. “If they asked him to walk on a frozen lake today, he’d probably do it again.”
The father added, “I knew that he had two girls as friends. They were going out, and he was spending money on them. I didn’t have any idea that they were doing this to him. When I was in high school, people didn’t do this to other people.”
During the 15-year-old’s plea hearing, James Tanavage, the girl’s lawyer, said that she was “not the primary person doing the acts,” but that he explained to her that under the law her participation made her equally culpable. The lawyer argued that putting his client back into juvenile detention before next month’s disposition hearing would be “a huge step backward” as she has scheduled appointments to begin counseling.
A Department of Juvenile Services agent said during the hearing that a drug test of the girl earlier this week tentatively showed a positive for marijuana use, followed by another test Thursday that showed no evidence of drug use.
Pleisse renewed his objection to the 15-year-old girl’s pretrial release from a juvenile facility earlier this week, but the juvenile services’ agent recommended that the girl remain on house arrest, in her parent’s custody.
The girl’s mother said she would help the child “get back on the right track,” and added, “I want to be responsible for my daughter, and I’m going to see that that happens.”
St. Mary’s Circuit Judge Michael J. Stamm told the girl that she immediately will be placed back in the juvenile facility if she tests positive for drug use.
Stamm told the boy’s father, “I’m not going to forget your child.”
As he left the courthouse, the boy’s father said, “It’s about people treating disabled people with the dignity and respect that they deserve, that all human beings deserve. It’s beyond my comprehension that someone could do what they did to my son.”