A 15-year-old Black girl who was locked up for not finishing online homework has been freed from a detention center and probation.
According to The Detroit News, Oakland County Circuit Judge Mary Ellen Brennan released the girl from probation when the judge adopted a caseworker’s recommendation that the case be terminated. The girl, identified as “Grace” to protect her identity, was released from probation on Tuesday.
Brennan said a Michigan Court of Appeals’ July 31 decision to release the girl from Children’s Village, a juvenile detention facility, caused the lower court to be backed into a corner.
“This court’s goal to place her (in Children’s Village) was to address delinquent behavior and improve life at home for her and her mother,” Brennan said, adding that Grace seemed to be benefiting from the treatment she received in the facility.
“The Court of Appeals order interrupted that treatment plan, and damage to that plan cannot be repaired by this court,” Brennan continued. “This court cannot increase the level of care if it thought that was appropriate, and this court cannot issue consequences for (bad) conduct.”
According to NBC News, Grace has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and receives special education services. In November of last year, she faced assault charges after cops were called for a situation in which the mother said Grace became violent because she was upset she couldn’t go to a friend’s house. Weeks later, Grace was also hit with larceny charges after she was recorded on surveillance footage stealing another student’s cellphone from a school locker room. The phone was eventually given back to the student.
In April, a juvenile court hearing was held virtually, and a caseworker explained to the judge that Grace should receive anger management and mental health treatment at a residential facility, to which the prosecutor agreed. A court-appointed attorney also requested probation for Grace since she hadn’t had any further incidents since November and because of COVID-19 concerns at detention facilities.
“My mom and I are working each day to better ourselves and our relationship, and I think that the removal from my home would be an intrusion on our progress,” Grace explained at the time, according to ProPublica.
Brennan sentenced Grace to “intensive probation,” with various requirements, including no phone use, staying home, checking in with a caseworker, and completing her schoolwork. However, Grace wasn’t able to focus well while learning from home, and she explained to a new caseworker in April that she felt overwhelmed about the probation.
After her caseworker learned that Grace had fallen back asleep one day and failed to complete her homework, a hearing was held in May and the judge determined that she violated her probation terms.
ProPublica noted that Grace’s teacher had told the caseworker in an email that she was “not out of alignment with most of my other students,” and how she was coping was “no one’s fault because we did not see this unprecedented global pandemic coming.”
Still, Grace was sent to the Children’s Village detention center because she was considered a “threat to community as original charge was assault and theft,” according to court records.
The decision caused national outrage, with six members of Congress calling on Attorney General William Barr and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to intervene in the case.
On July 20, Grace’s lawyers Jonathan Biernat and Saima Khalil filed a motion for early release. However, Brennan denied it, arguing that the girl was still a threat to her mom and that she should still receive treatment in the detention facility. Brennan’s ruling was reversed by the appellate court.
During the Tuesday hearing for her probation, Khalil filed a motion requesting Brennan recuse herself from the case but she denied this motion.
Finally, Brennan agreed to terminate Grace’s probation when she adopted the four-page report by Oakland Juvenile Probation caseworker Eddie Herron. He explained during the hearing that he believed Grace and her mother were ready to start repairing their relationship.
“Mom has worked diligently with the resources I’ve provided her,” Herron said. “I’m fully confident they’ll use those tools. They both realize the importance of making positive decisions. I tried to appeal to them to enhance their relationship, so we don’t have to be involved moving forward.”
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