How judge reached her decision to keep 15-year-old accused in 22 car thefts in juvenile court

MILWAUKEE -- A 15-year-old boy accused in connection with at least 22 car thefts was kept in the juvenile court system against prosecutors' wishes -- a decision that turned heads at Milwaukee's City Hall. It's a decision that prompted harsh criticism from a pair of Milwaukee aldermen.

Milwaukee County Juvenile Judge Gwen Connolly took 45 minutes to lay out her reasoning during the March 31st hearing. Early on, she described the charges against the 15-year-old boy in her court.

Judge Gwendolyn Connolly

"There is no doubt they are disturbing and they are alarming," Judge Connolly said.

FOX6 News is not identifying the boy because his case remains in juvenile court. Prosecutors on March 31st argued he should be waived into adult court. Despite Connolly's concerns, she said he hasn't seen every stop on the juvenile justice journey -- particularly the places with secure detention.

"He has never benefited from the full range of services of the juvenile system," Connolly said,"He has not been in either placement of MCAP or Lincoln Hills."

Judge Gwendolyn Connolly

Connolly noted the repeat offenses, including one arrest in a stolen car while allegedly wearing a GPS bracelet from a previous arrest, saying these are signs of serious immaturity.

"This is not unexpected behavior from juveniles who are not receiving or participating in treatment," Judge Connolly said.

Prosecutors say the teen has repeatedly run away from that very treatment in group home settings, returning to crime each time. Their star witness, an MPD youth gangs detective, said the immaturity is what worries him most.

"As kids get older and more developed, I think they start to realize that these actions have consequences," said MPD Det. Eric Draeger, "But, right now, they don't."

15-year-old boy accused in at least 22 car thefts

15-year-old boy accused in at least 22 car thefts

15-year-old boy accused in at least 22 car thefts

A video police say depicts the teen on Facebook Live with a gun didn't weigh into Connolly's decision. She said the reason was because prosecutors never brought gun charges.

"Presumably, these offenses would be charged if there was sufficient evidence to support them," Connolly said.

Janine Geske

Janine Geske, Marquette University law professor and former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice said while the allegations are troubling, adult prison offers little that could reform a 15-year-old boy.

"The prisons do what they can do with the budget, but there's not a lot of offerings for people who are incarcerated as an adult," Geske said.

She added it's a tough balance because there has to be accountability, especially for repeat offenses.

"You have to have a judge that's gonna apply consequences and a system that's gonna apply consequences to those types of things," Geske said.

With the teen remaining in the juvenile justice system, the question now is where he'll be sent. That will be decided toward the end of April.

The teen's lawyer told FOX6 News the most likely options are MCAP or Lincoln Hills. Both involve a period of secure detention. Police and prosecutors maintain he should be under supervision - whether in or out of custody - beyond the age of 18, when he would graduate out of the juvenile system.