- Barrington Daltrey for DRCNet
The use of juveniles by law enforcement agencies pursuant to plea bargains has come under scrutiny in California this week. How extensive is the practice? No one knows, since the records of such agreements are subject to the privacy laws protecting juveniles.
Earlier in the week, Southern California was shocked by the disclosure that the death of Chad McDonald, a 17 year old boy, and the brutal rape and attempted murder of his 15 year old girlfriend, might have resulted from the Brea police department's use of the boy as an informant. The Brea police department steadfastly denies any involvement, pointing out the incident took place in Norwalk, an area outside the Brea P.D.'s jurisdiction. But an attorney for the youth's mother claims that she allowed her son to act as an informant in return for having him released into her custody. The attorney also has stated that the mother tried to send the boy to relatives on the east coast in order to get him away from the streets of L.A., but that the Brea police wouldn't allow it. "They kept wanting more and more" from him, she said.
Coverage of the incident began after the discovery early in the month of the boy's body in an alley in South Central L.A., and discovery of the girl, left for dead, in the nearby mountains. The most recent disclosures came after the girl recovered from her injuries sufficiently to discuss what had happened.
Lloyd Charton, attorney for Cindy MacDonald, the boy's mother, was widely quoted as suggesting the two minors had entered a "drug den" in Norwalk in order to please Brea PD supervisors. It was reported that the boy, Chad MacDonald, had agreed to work as an informant in the course of a plea agreement in juvenile court.
Brea P.D. Chief Bill Lentini has indicated his department was not involved in the Norwalk incident and expressed frustration at his inability to comment further due to the privacy laws concerning juvenile court proceedings. In fact, according to Lentini, his department filed a petition for review in the Orange County Superior Court, Juvenile Division on March 25, 1998. The petition seeks authorization to discuss the matter with the press.
The unanswered question is what specific court orders were imposed upon Chad MacDonald in trade for his release from the system. It should be noted that under California law, juveniles are not "prosecuted", but made "wards of the court" in order to protect them. Release of the court documents might provide insight into just how the court intended to rehabilitate and protect MacDonald. Did it in fact approve a plea bargain whereby MacDonald would be involved in undercover narcotics investigations, as alleged?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question remains shrouded by the secrecy laws designed to protect minors from disclosure of their wrongdoing. The documents remain in the court file, marked "confidential."