SAN JOSE, Calif. - San Jose police said a group of teens who were captured after committing an armed carjacking had been arrested for committing the same crime three months ago.
At a news conference at police headquarters, investigators said this case is an indication the juvenile justice system is broken and in need of reform.
Early Sunday morning, some neighbors near downtown San Jose were awakened by a police helicopter circling overhead.Investigators said the action was the tail end of a carjacking investigation.
"Four juveniles out wreaking havoc in our city, with a firearm. Very dangerous situation," said Sgt. Christian Camarillo, a police spokesman.
He said the foursome carjacked a ride-share driver around 1a.m., at South 7th & Reed streets, near San Jose State University. That started a police chase, but responding officers stopped because the suspects sped off, putting other motorists in danger.
A police helicopter followed them north through the city, where they crashed on Coleman Avenue near the Highway 87 overpass.
A 14-year-old, two 15-year-olds, and a 17-year-old were arrested.
Investigators say they had a ghost gun and that the same kids had been arrested in March for committing the same crime. One was even still wearing his ankle monitor from the case that’s still pending.
"Obviously something needs to change. It’s not working. A couple of months after committing those first carjackings, they’re out doing another one. I mean I hate to call them dangerous kids, but that’s exactly what they are," said Sgt. Camarillo.
But Dr. Maria Tcherni-Buzzeo, a University of New Haven juvenile justice expert, countered that the police are not providing a fair assessment of crime based off this one case.
"Because that’s what we always hear from police," she said.
Buszzeo said data from the past 20 years shows juveniles are committing a smaller percentage of all types of crimes.
"I think it’s an outlier, and it’s not the only case, and I’m sure there are others. But in situations like that I feel it’s important to analyze what has been done. What kind of services have been provided to these kids?," she said.
Late Wednesday, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office said in a state to KTVU, "It is just as frustrating to us as anyone when people continue their criminal behavior. We truly believe in rehabilitation. But that’s no solace to a victim. There must be strict accountability for violence – and we will seek it."
Meanwhile, San Jose police said they cannot make streets safer alone. The department said it needs help from the public, community stakeholders, and parents.
"A 14-year-old should not be running around the streets at 1 a.m. with a ghost gun in the car," said Camarillo, shaking his head.
The four teenagers are again back in the supervision of the juvenile justice system in Santa Clara County.
The victim from the carjacking was not injured, and police said that person’s vehicle will be returned once they finish processing evidence.
Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay Bureau. Follow him on Twitter @JesseKTVU and Instagram @jessegontv