In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Sins of a father, portents of a killer

In 1994, the Dade County Grand Jury anticipated a killer, circa 2013.

The grand jury’s fall report described the county’s undermanned program to enforce collection of child support with this lament: “The actions of non-supportive parents can be compared to those of a thief, but rather than stealing one’s possessions, this thief instead steals the future of a child.”

The child support finding was an unrelated addendum along with the usual business of grand juries — considering criminal cases. But maybe not so unrelated. That same grand jury panel returned first-degree murder indictments against 91 defendants, including a new father named Anthawn Ragan Sr. In August 1994, three months before his twin son and daughter were born, he had been arrested for gunning a man down in Liberty City.

Ragan’s name would pop up in Miami-Dade court records again in 2005, when his ex-girlfriend sued, forcing him to acknowledge paternity of the twins and his failure to pay child support. He was serving a life sentence at Okaloosa Correction Institution and was unlikely to come up with extra money for the children. But in retrospect, the lawsuit makes the 1994 grand jury warning seem almost prophetic.

Nineteen years after his father’s arrest for murder, his son faces his own homicide charges. Police say that it was Anthawn Jr.’s face on that ghastly Nov. 25 surveillance video, a viral presence across the Internet, showing a young thug fleeing the North Miami nail salon he and a companion had just robbed, pausing for a moment in the doorway and, almost as an afterthought, firing two shots back into the store.

One bullet killed 10-year-old Aaron Vu. The other ripped into the shoulder of the child’s father, Hai Nam Vu, 42. Even in a community inured to murder, this shooting seemed particularly depraved. No one in the salon had resisted. The gunman shot the fifth grader and his father just for the hell of it. When North Miami Police Maj. Neal Cuevas described his suspect as “a cold blooded killer with no regard for human life,” it seemed like an understatement.

Since the younger Ragan’s arrest in the nail salon murder and robbery (police said they found him cowering in his twin sister’s Liberty City duplex), investigators have also charged him with an execution-style murder last month outside a North Miami motel, along with two other armed robberies during the last two months. More charges are expected. The 19-year-old already had eight previous arrests on his rap sheet, ranging from theft to battery on a school official to a brutal carjacking in 2008. In July, prosecutors dropped another armed robbery charge against Ragan when the victim refused to cooperate.

Since the age of 13, Ragan’s life has been a perpetual crime wave. Junior hadn’t just become his father’s son. He had become something worse.

Anthawn Ragan Sr. seemed to have been a promising young amateur boxer as a teenager. In our 1987 archives, the Herald reported that 15-year-old Anthawn Ragan had traveled with a boxing team to Marquette, Mich., to box in the 90-pound division of the U.S. Junior Olympic Championships, winning his first bout, before losing in the championship round.

But in April 1991, Miami-Dade police reported that the 19-year-old Ragan was wounded as he tried to break up a street fight in Liberty City. According to police, the combatants had pulled out guns and Ragan was wounded in the side and arm as the two men exchanged gunfire. So much for the boxing career. Over the next few years, he accumulated arrests for assault, carrying a concealed weapon, trespassing and resisting arrest. By March 1995, Ragan, aka “Sandtanner Lewis,” aka “Luis Santan,” aka “Romer Ferguson,” had been convicted of murder and was serving life in prison, leaving his 18-year-old girlfriend to raise their 4-month-old twins however she could manage.

There’s no shortage of sociological studies predicting dismal prospects for children of poor, teenaged mothers abandoned by the father. A father gone off to prison presages even worse outcomes. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice website offers startling statistics: “Nationally, 7.3 million children have at least one parent in jail or prison. Sadly, 70 percent of these kids are doomed to follow in the same footsteps as their parents, becoming imprisoned at some point in their lives. In fact, children of incarcerated parents are five times more likely than their peers to commit crimes. However, these at-risk children are largely ignored before they get in trouble.”

Then there was Anthawn Jr.’s mother. On Oct. 31, Octavia Rauls, who’ll turn 37 this month, was sent off to a federal lockup herself, after a jury found her guilty on three charges of social security fraud. The feds charged that she “did knowingly embezzle, steal, purloin, and convert to her own use” social security disability checks — her son’s disability checks. While Anthawn Jr. was off serving time in various juvenile institutions, from 2009 to 2012, Momma was cashing his checks and spending the money.

Before her trial, Rauls wrote a letter to U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks pleading for leniency. Apparently, Middlebrooks wasn’t impressed. After the Feb. 5 jury verdict, he sentenced her to six months in prison and ordered her to pay $22,775.56 in restitution for the pilfered funds. But her letter offers some insight into her son’s troublesome childhood. “I have been receiving this check for my son Anthawn since 2003 and have always been his sole provider. He has a mental condition and this is why I receive a check to take care of him and used every dime to do just that,” Rauls wrote.

“If you look at his juvenile history you will clearly see how long he has been in and out of trouble, in school and out. He has been placed in more than six schools from the age of five because of his behavior issues. I did not realize until he was diagnosed that he had a mental condition and that is why I went to the Social Security Administration for help. I could not provide for him and my daughter alone and really had no where else to turn.”

So here we have a mother sent to prison for misusing the money meant to help her mentally troubled son (who, Channel 10 reported last week, has fathered his own infant child). The 1994 grand jury warned that non-supportive parents were “stealing the future” of their children. In this case, the theft could be monetized by federal prosecutors. And of course, there was no parental support, financial or otherwise, coming from the father, indicted for murder by that same grand jury.

Dismal portents for a cold-blooded killer, circa 2013.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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