Their home is a crime scene. Many of their neighbors are either suspects or witnesses to a killing. And they can’t leave.
Such is the place that perhaps two dozen children find themselves at Miami-Dade County’s juvenile detention center, where a 17-year-old boy was beaten Sunday night, leading ultimately to his death.
The Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office, which represents the lion’s share of the county’s detainees, has asked a judge to order that about 20 of the kids present during the beating be returned to their parents under house arrest, with an electronic monitor.
Miami-Dade Juvenile Judge Orlando A. Prescott is expected to rule on the request Thursday morning.
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Late Monday, Elord Revolte, a foster child, died at Holtz Children’s Hospital from injuries he sustained when he was “jumped and severely beaten” — as his attorneys described it — at the Miami lockup. The altercation, which police say involved as many as 15 to 20 children, occurred the day before in a cellblock of the detention center called Module, or Mod, 9.
Elord had been in a Miami Beach foster home, in the care of the state Department of Children & Families, for all of about two days in July before he ran away to the beach. Child welfare authorities sought, and received, a “pickup order” instructing police and missing-children’s groups to be on the lookout for the teen. On Aug. 27, Elord was arrested by Miami Beach police on armed robbery charges — landing him in the detention center, at 3300 NW 27th Ave.
“Mod 9 is now a homicide crime scene,” Chief Assistant Public Defender Marie D. Osborne wrote in a pleading late Wednesday. “All Mod 9 staff members and children are either witnesses, suspects, or both. There is total distrust. Everyone now has a reasonable fear of all the others since everyone is either a suspect or a witness to a homicide.”
Miami-Dade police detectives are investigating Elord’s death, as are state juvenile justice authorities, who oversee the lockup. Attorneys for the detained youths say detectives spent hours at the center Tuesday interviewing children who were present during the melee. The detectives told children they were looking into Sunday’s fight. What they didn’t say, according to Public Defender Carlos Martinez: that Elord had died from his injuries, and that the inquiry was a high-stakes homicide investigation.
At present, Martinez said, no child has been charged in connection with Elord’s death.
In her motion Wednesday, Osborne blasted the state Department of Juvenile Justice, or DJJ, for its handling of events that followed the Sunday afternoon altercation.
“Despite [Elord] being seriously beaten, no one from DJJ called DCF, the effective parent of Elord, immediately after the beating,” Osborne wrote. “Despite a severe beating, no one called the police, immediately after the beating. Despite a severe beating, no one took Elord Revolte to a hospital or urgent care center until the following day.”
The Public Defender’s Office said its clients at the lockup were not aware that Elord had died from his injuries until their attorneys told them. “Nobody told them what was going on,” said Martinez. “They were told the detectives were investigating the fight.”
Believing Tuesday’s police investigation involved only an altercation, Martinez said, some of his clients likely failed to understand the seriousness of what was occurring. He does not know whether the youths were warned that they had a right to speak with a lawyer. And because so many of the detained youths are clients of his office, he’s afraid some may have offered incriminating information about other clients — potentially leaving the office riddled with conflicts of interest.
“The children on Mod 9 are now aware that Elord Revolte died,” the motion said. “They now know that neither DJJ nor the police were honest about the true nature of Tuesday’s investigation. These children are living in an atmosphere of isolation and fear where the grown-ups in charge failed to prevent, to protect, or to tell the truth.”
Neither DJJ nor the county police would discuss the motion late Wednesday.
“This remains an active investigation. No additional information is available for release at this time,” said Alvaro A. Zabaleta of Miami-Dade police.
On Tuesday, a DJJ spokeswoman declined to discuss medical care at the lockup, except to say: “DJJ protocol dictates that if a youth in one of our facilities needs outside medical attention, they get it without hesitation.”
Miami Herald staff writer Carli Teproff contributed to this report.