Rantz: Councilmember, Seattle activists pushed to keep teen out of jail. Then he allegedly shot two women.
Influential Seattle politicians and No New Youth Jail activists advocated to keep a dangerous teenager with multiple felony charges from jail. Despite pleas from a King County prosecutor, a judge steered Jakwaun Shannon into restorative justice programs.
I think it’s fair to say that decision proved to be a mistake.
The teen has a criminal history dating back to at least 2019, when he was just 14 years old. Charges include Drive-By Shooting (2 counts), Attempting To Elude A Pursuing Police Vehicle, Hit And Run Attended Vehicle, Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in the Second Degree, Attempted Robbery In The First Degree, Robbery In The First Degree (2 counts) and Assault In The Second Degree. These crimes happened over the course of just three days.
Jakwaun, now 16, accepted a plea deal in December 2020, landing in probation. But just a little over a month later, he was back in the system.
Police allege his latest crimes include an armed attempted robbery and a car jacking. According to police documents, two female victims were shot, one losing her kidney and a portion of her intestines as a result.
Pictures taken at the time of his arrest show Jakwaun was wearing a “No New Youth Jail” t-shirt at the time. It was the very movement that kept him out of detention, allowing him to allegedly commit a series of other crimes.
Jakwaun avoided detentions thanks to an approach that I believe prioritizes criminals over their victims; one that listens to the promises of community activists instead of relying on objective facts and a commitment to protecting society at large.
Over the course of several weeks, high profile local politicians and activists spoke out on the teen‘s behalf, including then-King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, and former mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver. Their connection to Jakwaun runs through his aunt KL Shannon, a prominent community activist and police accountability chair for the Seattle/King County NAACP.
Not everyone has access to local leaders to lobby for a second chance. So what happened with Jakwaun? The truth is more complex than one might think.
I believe Jakwaun was failed by judges who ignored clear red flags about his behaviors and put blind trust in activists. Stubbornly, anti-jail activists failed him as they pushed policy agendas at the expense of public safety. He was failed by restorative justice programs that couldn’t provide him what he needed. Coming from a broken home made things worse. But ultimately, Jakwaun failed himself.
Teen accused in lengthy, violent crime spree
When Jakwaun was 14, in July 2019, he was arrested following a violent crime spree.
Police connected the teen and a friend to four armed robberies, three drive-by shootings, and a pistol whipping. The two were arrested after a high-speed chase in which the 14-year-old was allegedly the driver.
Jakwaun was charged with a drive-by shooting, attempting to elude a police vehicle, hit-and-run on an occupied vehicle, and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. He pleaded not guilty. Rather than being sentenced to secure detention, he was instead placed on electronic-home monitoring. The prosecutor, Benjamin Carr, strenuously objected.
But community activists advocated to keep him out of jail and Judge Theresa Doyle agreed.
Nikkita Oliver, other activists go to bat for teen
Speaking on Jakwaun’s behalf at an August 1, 2019 arraignment was anti-youth jail activist and former Seattle mayoral candidate/current council candidate Nikkita Oliver. She said she had known the teen for 10 years through his aunt KL Shannon, whom she has partnered with on community projects for years.
“Jakwaun is an incredibly dynamic young person who I’ve seen being an advocate, not just for himself, but for his peers,” Oliver told the court during that August 1, 2019, arraignment hearing. “He has a lot of love for community, he has actually been raised by all of these community members… has an incredible thought pattern about what does it look like to have a just community, to make sure that young people in our community have the things that we need to be healthy, while understanding that we also live in a society that’s not set up fair.”
Oliver told the judge that she was there as a community member, advocate, and lawyer to “commit my support to making sure that Jakwuan does what he needs to, shows up where he needs to be.”
The Reverend Angela Ying, senior pastor at the Bethany United Church of Christ, spoke next. She’s a social justice activist who has partnered alongside the Seattle/King County NAACP. According to a letter posted by Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant and signed by community activists, Jakwuan’s aunt is associated with Ying’s church.
Ying called the teen a “wonderful young man” and compared his errors to that of Moses and Mary Magdalene. She said teens don’t “always know the consequences” of their actions. She did not respond to two requests for comment, one via phone and another via email.
Prosecutor strenuously objected to release
At the arraignment, Jakwaun’s lawyer, Justin Matthews, used the activist support to lobby the judge to release his client from custody.
“These people will surround him, and love him, and bring him to his court dates,” Matthews told the judge.
The prosecutor, Benjamin Carr, implored the judge to reject the notion that Jakwaun was simply involved in “childish behavior”.
“That is not what this case is,” Carr told the court. “What we’re dealing with is a drive-by shooting. Very dangerous, attempting to elude the police, not only multiple passengers but bystanders in danger, and the presence of a firearm.”
Carr asked for the teen to receive secure detention. Judge Doyle, however, disagreed and assigned electronic home monitoring.
7-year-old victim’s mother was outraged
Over the course of the next few days, the court had technical difficulties setting up GPS-enabled home monitoring at KL Shannon’s home, where Jakwaun lived. The GPS could only alert the court that he is “out of range” from his home, not specifically pinpoint his location. The court had to decide whether or not to detain Jakwaun until the technical issue was fixed.
At an August 6, 2019, hearing on the matter, the mother of a victim from one of the drive-by shootings had the opportunity to address the court. Her 7-year-old son, who lives with a disability, was hit by shrapnel during the shooting. After that incident, she told the court they moved to a shelter. That Jakwaun wasn’t being detained outraged her.
“Our whole world, our whole stability, our whole peace of mind has been taken from us,” she told the court. “And I’m just really outraged. And I’m shocked, and I’m really disheartened that he was offered house arrest in the first place.”
Cutting right to the issue
So why was he getting off so easy in her view? The mother attributed the decision for a more lenient outcome to the teen’s connections.
“I’m aware that he has some high officials and some councilman at his court hearings and people with high status,” she said. “But I’m saying lives are on the line and future lives. We need Jakwaun to get some real rehabilitation, and he can’t get that from home. And he can’t understand the consequences of what he did from at home thinking this is a slap on the wrist. I have a 7-year-old child that’s having nightmares, that is shaken up, who already has a disability and I’m working with him every day.”
As the hearing continued, Jakwaun’s attorney requested his client go the night without the faulty home monitoring pending a hearing the next day. He said community members like Reverend Ying, who previously spoke on Jakwaun’s behalf, would ensure that he would show up to a hearing scheduled for the next day.
The mother of the 7-year-old victim interrupted with an impassioned speech.
“Where was the reverend and city councilman when he was out at 12, 1 o’clock in the morning terrorizing the city of Seattle for two days? That’s all I’m asking,” she said. “My baby was at home playing YouTube and on video games and being a kid. I want to know where these people were when my baby, when I heard him … cry. I was scared to look at my son because I didn’t know what I was walking into. The room [Jakwaun] shot up … was my kid’s room.”
She wasn’t done.
“There is something deeply disturbed about this child,” she declared. “And I want to know where were these people, these activists and these people when he was doing what he was doing and terrorizing me and my children.”
Still, Jakwaun went the night without the specific GPS home monitoring, before the device would be set up to fully function, as the court originally intended.
Judge stands by decision to release
Two months later, as Jakwaun was on electronic home monitoring, attending school and restorative justice programs, there was a second arraignment on October 14, 2019. The King County Prosecutor’s Office filed four more charges, including Attempted Robbery with a Firearm In The First Degree, from the same alleged crime spree. Jakwuan again pleaded not guilty.
Carr implored the judge to remand Jakwuan because of the grave danger he believed he posed to the community. He reminded the judge of three witnesses who identified the teen as the shooter from one of the crimes for which he was charged.
The prosecutor went over the list crimes for which Jakwuan was being charged, at one point showing video of the drive-by where the 7-year-old boy suffered shrapnel wounds.
“Those people were all placed in danger and they can’t be here. A lot of them are too scared to be here. A lot of them are still suffering for what happened,” Carr said.
But Judge Doyle admonished him, saying “You don’t know if they’re too scared, just try not to get emotional and just focus on the evidence.”
But Carr responded he knew of “at least three witnesses who are too scared to be here today.”
Jakwaun’s lawyer reminded the judge that “when you first released him, you were trusting a lot of this community that is here now.”
Councilmember Gossett, others weigh in
Former King County Councilmember Larry Gossett spoke on Jakwaun’s behalf. He said he’s known Jakwaun, through KL, for more than a decade.
“What we’re saying is Jakwaun is not someone in our collective experience, based on his 2, 2.5 months that we’ve been working extremely closely, he is not someone that’s going to be a threat, in our opinion, to public safety,” Gossett argued in reference to the work the teen completed between arraignments, citing his grades at school and his work with restorative justice program Community Passageways.
He asked the judge to believe that Jakwaun has done “everything he possibly could do, with support from his family and his community, to do the very best things he can do to stay out of juvie before his impending trial.”
Ultimately, the judge again chose to release Jakwaun to home monitoring, with the expectation the teen continue working with community restorative justice programs.
Restorative justice programs
Restorative justice programs, like the ones Jakwaun used, are meant to provide alternatives to jail. Activists routinely argue that courts should put criminals in these programs, rather than jail, because they believe the programs have greater success rehabilitating people. But I believe Jakwaun’s story suggests their efficacy is lacking.
Court documents reveal Jakwaun took part in two programs: Community Passageways and Creative Justice. His enrollment in both programs was used to convince the judge to keep the teen out of detention.
Community Passageways‘ website says the program aims to keep youth out of jail via “love, compassion, and consistency.” Creative Justice, where Nikkita Oliver acts as Executive Director, says it was created as an “innovative arts-based approach to ending racial disproportionality and youth incarceration.”
Though the judge spent time discussing ways to ensure Jakwaun would participate in the programs, Gossett, who originally advocated for him, raises questions as to whether or not the programs were intensive enough for him. Gossett told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH that “it definitely wasn’t comprehensive enough to keep him out of trouble for very long.”
I reached out via phone and email to both Community Passageways, through their CEO Dominique Davis, and to Creative Justice, through Oliver, to discuss their respective programs for Jakwaun. Neither responded over a three day period before initially publishing this story.
Probation for Jakwaun. He allegedly violated it in just over a month
After months of discovery, COVID delays, and a change in attorney for Jakwaun, there was a resolution for the teen’s original charges. He pleaded guilty on December 8, 2020, to two counts of Robbery 1 and one count of Assault 2. If he were to reoffend, depending on the severity, this guilty plea would mean more serious charges in the future.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what he is now accused of doing.
As part of the plea, Jakwaun agreed to complete community partner programs (Community Passageways and Creative Justice), attend school, commit no new crimes, and not possess any weapons. But in a little over a month, he allegedly violated the probation.
A violent attempted robbery, carjacking
Just after 1 p.m. on January 16, 2021, according to police documents, a woman was driving to work when she noticed three teens flagging her down. Police say one of the teens was Jakwaun.
When she pulled over, she says they asked her if she knew where a local bus stop was. Before she was able to answer, police say Jakwaun pulled a gun on her. His two friends allegedly surrounded the vehicle as someone said, “Get out of the car, b—-!”
The police say the “distraught” victim put her head down and honked the horn for help. That’s when Jakwaun allegedly fired into the car, before fleeing on foot. Photos of her car show several bullet holes, but the victim was not physically hurt.
Police say as Jakwaun and his friends ran away, they shed identifying clothing, including shoes, jackets, and a sweatshirt.
But Seattle Police K9 Units say they were able to track down the suspects. Police documents indicate officers recovered the clothing and two loaded .22 caliber Smith and Wesson pistols.
Following the teen’s new arrest, on January 19 2021, the prosecutor’s office filed for an emergency detention review. This time, in front of a different judge, the detention was granted on January 21, 2021. He’s charged as an adult with three counts: Assault In The First Degree, Attempted Robbery In The First Degree, and Unlawful Possession Of A Firearm In The First Degree.
But police were not done investigating.
Violent armed robbery
The night before the carjacking, on January 15, there was an armed robbery where two female teenagers were shot. Seattle Police now allege Jakwaun was the shooter.
Court documents say Jakwaun approached the two victims as he was “proudly displaying a gun” and telling them he would “blow anyone” and “doesn’t care if he caught a case.” But, the court documents allege, one victim refused to give him money. That’s when police allege Jakwaun shot several rounds at the victims.
Both victims were hit by the gunfire, with one victim “very seriously injured, losing a portion of her intestines and a kidney after a lengthy stay in the hospital.”
At an arraignment on March 15, Jakwaun was charged with three more felonies: Assault 1st degree with a Firearm Enhancement, Attempted Robbery 1st degree and Assault in the 2nd Degree with a Firearm Enhancement.
The prosecutor’s office asked that bail be raised from $500,000 to $750,000 due to the serious nature of the alleged crimes. The judge granted the bail increase. Jakwaun, through his attorney, pleaded not guilty.
How did we get here?
Jakwaun didn’t have an easy childhood, according to former councilmember Gossett.
“Jakwaun had challenges his whole life,” Gossett told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, pointing to a broken home and the challenges of dealing with a close family member living with mental health issues.
There is a significant connection between youth crime and broken families, especially among boys. I believe this almost certainly played a role in taking Jakwaun down the wrong path in life.
“If there ever was a kid that you’d say he’s not going to make it, they’d have said that about Jakwaun when he was born. His daddy was in jail. His mother was very ill,” Gossett continued. “You know, [KL] said, ‘I’ll do the best I can for him and his older brother.’ A lot of events were against him at a very early age.”
Indeed, I think they were. I also think the red flags were there for a judicial system that could have done better to intervene. Instead, it was swayed by ludicrous claims that drive-by shootings came from a misguided kid who didn’t know better.
Kids will be kids?
At the August arraignment hearing, restorative justice coordinator James Williams characterized Jakwaun’s string of violent incidents as the type of mistakes many kids make.
“Part of growing up — there’s not an adult in this room who didn’t do a few things when they were younger that now they realize that they shouldn’t have done. That’s true with adults today,” Williams claimed.
In my view, this claim should have been laughed out of court. Instead, the judge believed Jakwaun didn’t pose a threat to the community.
I find it hard to imagine what more he could have done, short of murder, to make it more obvious that a well-intentioned aunt would not be able to get him the help that he needed to mitigate his threat.
My analysis: Blind faith in restorative justice
I don’t think anyone should blame KL Shannon for fighting to keep Jakwaun out of detention. KL was doing what she could to help someone she likely knew would be difficult to care for. We all have on blinders when it comes to those we love.
But that’s where a court must remove emotion in determining the best outcome for the teen suspect and society at large. That a 14-year-old who turns to this level of violence needs more than home monitoring and part-time activists working on his behalf, I think, should have been obvious.
In an effort to keep youth and adults out of jail, I think activists and judges have put blind faith in restorative justice. I believe these strategies can and do work, but not for everyone.
I believe these programs should be offered to low-level, non-violent juvenile criminals, particularly if they come from broken homes. These kids are salvageable. Society is best served correcting problem behavior of youth, rather than rushing them into a jail cell. They’re kids: They will be released and have many years of life that can impact society.
But when it comes to violent crimes, the lives of innocent victims far outweigh the tragic lives of juvenile criminals.
What should happen next? Detention
Jakwaun doesn’t bear responsibility for having a rough childhood. In that regard, I view him as a victim.
But the moment he picked up a gun and endangered the lives of innocent people, I think it’s reasonable to place the blame on his shoulders. He should have been put in detention, even if it ruffled the feathers of the activist community that gave him the “No New Youth Jail” T-shirt he was wearing when he allegedly carjacked a woman, while firing a gun into her car.
Former councilmember Gossett believes this time Jakwaun will stay in detention. He suspects he’ll get, at minimum, four or five years and, at most, up to 20 years.
I think the issue remains complex
But Gossett raised a good point in my conversation with him. Could Jakwaun’s trajectory really change in detention?
“It is very likely that the stuff that happened the first or second month he was out [on probation], would have happened after about four years and two months [in juvenile detention],” Gossett told me. “I don’t know how much is in our juvenile justice system… that he’s likely to be at that would more effectively assure that he would have a fighting chance of making it, without getting back involved in criminal activity.”
That is a fair point in my view. It’s one used to argue for more funding to restorative justice programs. Perhaps this case can put a renewed spotlight on better funding for a youth detention center (yes, a new youth jail) with intensive care that makes it more likely that the real needs of youth offenders will be served and they will come out better people.
But until that situation is figured out, I don’t think we should put more effort into the criminal than into his victims. That position isn’t giving up on troubled youth; it’s a commitment to protecting innocent people from being carjacked, shot at, or robbed. And the court’s duty should be to the victims and the public, not an ideological marriage to restorative justice.
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