Florida Dept. of Juvenile Justice ‘needs to be exposed’ after wild shootout with kids, sheriff says

8 On Your Side

TAMPA (WFLA) – A Florida sheriff is not mincing words in the wake of a dangerous shootout between his deputies and two children.

A 12-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl are accused of shooting at deputies on Tuesday in a home that Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said they broke into.

“This went on for hours. This wasn’t a split second, we exchange gunfire. We were out here from 7:30 until 9 o’clock until we returned fire,” Chitwood said.

Chitwood is blaming the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice for the incident. 8 On Your Side Investigator Mahsa Saeidi is looking into what went wrong.

According to Sheriff Chitwood the 14-year-old girl had previously burned down a children’s home that she was sent to live in, located in Flagler County, on April 11. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice screened her and it was determined that she didn’t qualify to be held in a secure facility. A decision Sheriff Chitwood says put the entire community in danger.

“I think you need to look at the system because if you look at what’s going on here – in South Florida, what are they looking for right now? Teenagers that shot 20 people, killed two. Atlanta – last week, a 10 to 12-year-old carjacked a city councilman,” he said. “Restorative justice is getting people killed and getting people hurt.”

“Anybody that sits back and tells you that we’re a model in the state of Florida – we’re a failure in the state of Florida, just like every other state that embarks on this measure,” he continued. “We’re not saying we don’t believe in a holistic approach to juvenile crime. Absolutely positively. But when you got somebody who wants to do big-boy crimes or big-girl crimes, then treat them accordingly. Don’t try to mollycoddle them and pat them on the head and say if we hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ we’re gonna change your behavior. It’s not going to happen. They laugh at us.”

Body camera footage shows Volusia county deputies hiding behind trees as shot after shot rings out on Tuesday.

**Warning: Video in player above may be too graphic for some viewers.**

According to Sheriff Chitwood, the 12-year-old boy had reportedly run away with a 14-year-old girl from a juvenile home for troubled children. Deputies searched for the two children, as the 12-year-old is insulin-dependent.

Around 7 p.m., the sheriff said a passerby said he heard glass breaking at a home.

Deputies discovered a house had been broken into.

Officials with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office called the homeowner, who said no one should be at the home, and that homeowner told the sheriff’s office there were firearms and ammunition in the house.

According to Chitwood, as deputies surrounded the home, they were met with gunfire, multiple times.

“They took rounds, multiple, multiple rounds before they were left with no other choice but to return fire,” said Sheriff Chitwood.

The 14-year-old then came out of the garage, armed with a firearm, and was then shot by deputies. The 12-year-old boy decided to surrender, the sheriff said.

The footage is blurred but you can hear the girl scream as deputies try to save her life.

“I don’t know what to say, where have we gone wrong that 12-year-old and 14-year-old think it’s okay to take on law enforcement?” said Sheriff Chitwood. “You really need to be exposing the Department of Juvenile Justice, it’s a failure, it’s a fraud, it’s a fake.”

During an emotional news conference, Sheriff Chitwood said the 14-year-old girl should not have been in an unsecured group home and says despite a violent history, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice let her walk.

“The department of juvenile justice consistently is sending kids that need to be in a secure facility into our communities,” said Sheriff Chitwood. “These kids are killers, they’re capable of killing.”

Josefina Tamayo is the acting secretary of DJJ. 8 On Your Side emailed her and called the agency about the sheriff’s claims that DJJ was releasing dangerous kids into our communities.

A DJJ spokeswoman tells 8 On Your Side, legally, she couldn’t discuss this 14-year-old’s case but “we serve alongside the various partners that make up Florida’s juvenile justice system… to hold youth accountable for their actions.”

Ultimately, she said it’s the judge, not the DJJ that’s responsible for who gets released. So who is this judge that’s allegedly to blame?

8 On Your Side is working to find that out right now.

Here’s the statement from DJJ:

“The events that unfolded last night in Volusia County are tragic, and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is thankful that there were no casualties as a result of this incident. To clarify, the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home is not a DJJ program. As an agency, we serve alongside the various partners that make up Florida’s juvenile justice system, including law enforcement, the courts, state attorneys, and community providers to hold youth accountable for their actions. DJJ does not tolerate violence that jeopardizes the public safety of our communities.”

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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