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Judge Uses Words of Alleged School Shooter Ethan Crumbley Against Him, Says Teen Must Remain in Adult Jail

Ethan Crumbley appears in court on Feb. 22, 2022. (Image via WJBK/YouTube screengrab.)

Ethan Crumbley appeared in court on Feb. 22, 2022.

A Michigan judge on Tuesday ruled that alleged school shooter Ethan Crumbley must remain in an adult jail pending trial on charges that he murdered four students and wounded seven other people at Oxford High School late last November.

Crumbley’s defense attorneys have long protested his incarceration at the Oakland County Jail and have sought to move the teen to a youth facility known as the Oakland County Children’s Village.

“[I]t is clear to this Court that Children’s Village is incapable of safely housing this Defendant because of the unique circumstances this case presents,” Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Kwamé L. Rowe wrote in a 12-page opinion and order. “Defendant’s presence and potential impact on other students” at the Children’s Village would be “concerning,” the judge added.

“[T]he Court finds that Defendant cannot be safely detained in Children’s Village,” Judge Rowe concluded.

The judge further concluded that keeping Crumbley in a county jail — albeit away from adult inmates — would be “in the best interest of justice.”

At a Feb. 22, 2022 hearing, Judge Rowe heard testimony from Heather Calcaterra, the manager of the Children’s Village. Rowe noted that Calcaterra said the facility was staffed by “youth specialists” who “are not trained police officers” and who must “sometimes call the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office for support” if “there is an issue on campus.” Additionally, Calcaterra said the facility has “never had an alleged school shooter” or a resident “presenting an insanity defense.”

The Children’s Village requires residents to “be enrolled in school within five days after detention or detainment,” Judge Rowe wrote. “Teachers teach in live classrooms during the week from 8:00am to 3:15pm.”

“Residents attend classes with their peers,” the judge continued. “That is, male residents in secure detention attend classes together and female residents in secure detention attend classes together.”

Calcaterra said she could not predict the possible “trauma impact” of adding Crumbley to the population at the understaffed Children’s Village were he to be placed there, Judge Rowe also said. She also feared “other residents may target” Crumbley if he is moved to her facility.

Judge Rowe also noted the testimony of Capt. Tom Vida, who supervises the Oakland County Jail. Per the judge:

Currently,Defendant is on a behavior watch. Captain Vida testified that Defendant is likely to continue a behavior watch for the foreseeable future because of the nature of the allegations. A behavior watch requires a deputy to monitor Defendant every fifteen minutes. Defendant has access to food and showers. Defendant is given a kosher meal and provided an “adolescent meal” to help with calorie intake. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, no inmate i sallowed recreational activity. If recreational activity becomes available, then Defendant will be allowed to participate. Defendant also has access to a tablet. Defendant has a personal log in for the tablet and can access books, movies, games, his personal calendar, view email, send kites to file grievances, the law library, and Khan Academy [an “online K-12 school program”]. Defendant has also been provided Harry Potter books. He has a “pretty excessive” commissary. Defendant may leave his cell for showers, phone calls, and visits. He has been housed under continuing room light because he is being kept in the clinic out of sight and sound of adult inmates. In Captain Vida’s opinion Defendant’s needs are being met.

Under Michigan law, “[a] juvenile may be incarcerated in an adult facility ‘upon a showing that (a) the juvenile’s habits or conduct are considered a menace to other juveniles,'” the judge wrote, or “(b) the juvenile may not otherwise be safely detained in a juvenile facility.”

The law contains a clear preference for juveniles to be housed in juvenile facilities, but a court may place a juvenile in an adult jail if the so-called “interest of justice” would be best served by such a commitment. The juvenile’s age, mental maturity, whether the juvenile “presents an imminent risk of harm,” and the “nature and circumstances of the alleged offense” are among a list of factors a judge must consider while contemplating a placement.

Judge Rowe affirmed a lower district court ruling that Crumbley was a “menace.”

He also said that a new law scheduled to take effect in May would ban the Children’s Village from placing Crumbley “in solitary” or otherwise away “from other juveniles even if it were for his protection,” the judge noted.  He later said putting Crumbley in such a facility would likely harm the rehabilitation of other juveniles present — especially since they could not be kept separate from Crumbley.

The judge said he was not willing to place Crumbley among “other juveniles during class, at the cafeteria, dinner, etc.”

“This Court does not find that it is appropriate to place Defendant in a classroom with other students or teachers,” the judge added.

He also called out the fact that, according to him, “help may not be immediately available” at the Children’s Village should there be a problem — then later noted that the “understaffed” facility had experienced “eight escapes and/or walkaways from campus in the past nine months.”  Therefore, he said, “the potential of escape at Children’s Village is great.”

Elsewhere, the judge jettisoned defense suggestions that Crumbley was “suffering” due to “extreme isolation” behind bars by using Crumbley’s own words against his attorneys:

The Court will note that Defendant has been actively communicating with members of the public — sometimes several times a day.  Throughout the email exchanges, Defendant does not express any mental health concerns.  In fact, in an email dated January 16, 2022, Defendant emailed an individual that he is in an adult jail and “I got a cell to myself 3 meals a day, a TV to watch and the guards are pretty nice.”  [Citation omitted.]  This Court reviewed numerous jail email exchanges and will note that Defendant does not express any mental health concerns.  Additionally, upon reading Defendant’s jail email exchanges, the Court will note that Defendant advises others that he is doing “fine” and expressed positive thoughts throughout the exchanges.  For example, in an exchange dated January 19, 2022, Defendant advises an individual that their mail “brightens” his day and photos of New York are what he imagined.  There is nothing in the email exchanges that causes this Court concern regarding Defendant’s current mental health.  Although Defendant is in isolation, he does not note any mental health concerns and the jail has not noted any concerns.  He is eating, reading books, playing video games, and talking to others.

“As such,” the judge continued, “this Court is not persuaded that Defendant’s isolation is having a negative impact on his current mental health.”

Further into the analysis, the judge said he was placing “great weight” on the “troubling and disturbing” nature of the alleged offenses as additional reasons to leave Crumbley in an adult jail.

The judge elsewhere credited prosecution evidence that Crumbley “texted another individual and wrote in his journal that he planned to kidnap, rape, torture, and then kill an identified female minor.” And there was evidence Crumbley described “that he had created Molotov cocktails” and contemplated using them “during the school shooting,” the judge wrote.

Finally, the judge said Crumbley also wrote in his journal that he had killed “8 infant baby birds by slowley [sic] torturing them until death.”

“This Court reviewed People’s Exhibit 5, which indeed shows Defendant torturing a baby bird to death,” the judge wrote. “The above prior delinquent acts are of grave concern to this Court.”

Read the judge’s order below:

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.