Breaking News

NYC’s deadly criminal justice game: Catch, release, kill

New York’s recently reformed juvenile justice system is proving deadly to those it purports to protect: teenage offenders from the city’s most at-risk communities, law enforcement sources told The Post.

The root of the problem is the state’s Raise the Age law, signed by Gov. Cuomo on April 10, 2017. The legislation, embedded into the state budget that year, increased the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 throughout the state, effective on Oct. 1, 2019.

It intends to offer troubled teens a lifeline out of the criminal justice system before they become adults — but in practice, it results in a “catch and release” system that condemns kids to a deadly cycle of violence.

“It’s kill or be killed out here,” said former Bronx prosecutor turned criminal defense attorney Michael Discioarro.

The state website touting the law says automatically prosecuting 16 and 17 years olds as adults was an “injustice” that “unfairly punished youth and prevented them from receiving the services they need to rehabilitate themselves and re-integrate into their communities.”

 Ramon Gil-Medrano
Ramon Gil-Medrano

But rehabilitation services have not materialized, critics say. Supervision and oversight promised by the legislation have also been lax.

The law gives thousands of juvenile offenders a slap on the wrist and then spits them back out on the street, often to the care of criminal enterprises. Their cases wend their way through a secretive and labyrinthine legal system — while the teens graduate to greater criminality and violence or face the threat of death themselves.

“Nobody consulted prosecutors and judges when they wrote this law, and if they were lawyers, they never did criminal cases. Not in New York City. Not the Bronx,” said one law enforcement source.

Terrifying and troubling examples of the broken system abound — including Tyree Malone, one of the teens who observers said failed to get the resources, supervision and oversight promised by the Raise the Age law.

A 17-year-old reputed member of the brutal Bronx-based JackBoyZ crew, Malone was charged as an adolescent offender in at least three consecutive gun arrests in less than a year – before graduating to the alleged murder of Dandre Johnson this summer.

Malone is accused of shooting the 24-year-old Bronx man multiple times in the Mott Haven neighborhood just after 11 p.m. on August 19. Johnson was pronounced dead at Lincoln Hospital less than an hour later. 

Malone was busted on Sept. 23 and hit with charges ranging from murder, intentional manslaughter, and two counts of criminal possession of a firearm. He pleaded not guilty on Sept. 24.

Malone’s age when he committed each crime put him squarely within the parameters of the Raise the Age law, leaving his gun arrests to be heard in Family Court, where almost every proceeding is shrouded in secrecy.

The law’s privacy requirements bar judges from knowing the extent of a teen’s criminal past, one source.

“The privacy laws [built into Raise the Age] prevent agencies from sharing information, and judges from knowing the full history of the kid in front of them [as to] make a proper decision from the bench … to help a kid,” said a person familiar with Malone’s case. “Maybe a kid who’s caught for a third time with a gun shouldn’t be out.”

Malone’s gun cases from Family Court remain sealed. His last court date on the murder rap was Oct. 4. 

Ramon Gil-Medrano was shot and died in the hospital & may have been targeted as retaliation for the fatal shooting of Jaryan Elliot, who was gunned down on East 187th Street near Prospect Avenue
Ramon Gil-Medrano was shot and killed while riding in an Uber.
Robert Mecea

 “It’s beyond any comprehension [how Malone] was not under supervision,” despite his well-documented gun and gang history, said a source with knowledge of the murder case. The system, the source added, “is insanity.”:

Ramon Gil-Medrano — is the other side of the coin, and his death is shocking evidence of the unmitigated failure to properly supervise troubled teens.

A reputed member of the 800YGZ Bronx crew, the 16-year-old was killed in a retaliatory gang shooting on July 11, his chilling, cold-blooded execution caught on camera.

Two gunmen rode up to Gil-Medrano’s Uber and shot him in what sources say is payback for another gang related murder earlier that night – that of 13-year-old Jaryran Elliot.

“How Medrano is out to be executed in the back of an Uber when he has three gun arrests in 90 days is mind-boggling,” bemoaned one source familiar with the case.

Ramon Medrano
Ramon Medrano

Gil-Medrano had two known arrests for criminal possession of a firearm dating back to Aug. 10, 2020. He had already dodged death once, as well: wounded in another attempted gang-motivated hit on July 7, 2020, sources said.

“Medrano had gun cases and where did they go? Family Court. What happens when it goes to Family Court?” said one Bronx source familiar with the teen’s cases. “There’s no accountability in Family Court. He wasn’t on supervision.”

Instead of protecting teens from a life of crime, the law has instead made many of them pawns in the hands of older gang members, critics say.

“If you are the boss of a criminal enterprise, you now have a perfect farm system where you can have young men who are capable of murder – at 15, 16 years old – with no fear they’re going to implicate you because there are no consequences for them,” said Discioarro.

Steven Mendez, 17, of the Bronx, might have been one of those pawns.

He shot and killed 21-year-old Saikou Koma on Oct. 24 — a victim of mistaken identity and “completely innocent” man, in what sources described as a botched gang hit.

Mendez had a violent history and could have been in jail for up to four years after pleading guilty to armed robbery in 2020. His rap sheet includes pulling a gun on his own mother.

Yet the teen was walking the streets and free to allegedly commit murder when he should have faced criminal consequences, or at least enjoyed the assistance of resources promised by the Raise the Age law.

There were 2,336 16-year-old offenders arrested, and 3,099 17-year-olds arrested, for a felony from October 2019 to March 2020, according to state tracking data.

Tyree Malone
Tyree Malone

New York City accounted for about 1,500 of those 5,435 arrests, almost evenly split between 16- and 17-year-old offenders.

In addition to Family Court, cases for 16- and 17-year-old offenders might also be diverted to the city department of probation for “adjustment,” which is a form of favorable, non-criminal disposition for teen defendants.

Probation officials decide if cases get prosecuted, with or without input from police or district attorneys. More than half of those cases are not prosecuted, said one law-enforcement source.

“The secrecy behind this is very dangerous,” the source said. “We have 400 kids arrested with guns this year, and 950 kids have histories of four or more arrests under the age of 18 … We are not fixing the problem. Probation doesn’t want to talk about that because we’re not solving the problem.”

Internal records obtained by The Post show the startling scope of the crisis of teens with guns.  

Underage offenders represent more than 10 percent of all gun arrests this year (402 of 3,975), while those firearms violations account for nearly 10 percent of all arrests this year among kids under 18 (4,114). Of the 402 teens arrested for gun crimes, 172 (42.8{e421c4d081ed1e1efd2d9b9e397159b409f6f1af1639f2363bfecd2822ec732a}) had a prior felony arrest.

Teens have been involved in 357 shootings this year, the most since 2015 – including 126 as victims. Fourteen with prior gun arrests have been shot, five of them killed.

“Kids are carrying more guns than at any rate historically,” said an NYPD source. “Whatever we’re doing isn’t working. (Teens) go to Family Court then after that they become victims of shootings. This (data) should sound the alarm.”

Murder victim Jaryan Eliot
Thirteen-year-old Jaryran Elliot was killed in a gang-related incident.

An Office of Court Administration spokesman said a handful of private service providers, contracted by the city, are responsible for pre-trial supervision services of older teens, who have to follow conditions set by a judge.

“If you ask a prosecutor if [a kid] is on supervised release – they have no idea what that means. There’s no accountability,” one source said.

Compounding the problem: the city and state worked together in 2012 to close upstate correction and treatment centers for at-risk NYC kids. Gov. Cuomo called it the “Close to Home” initiative, backed by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

But it’s precisely those at-risk teens who are more likely to find trouble close to home. 

“You’re diving into a world nobody understands, and frankly nobody wants to deal with,” Discioarro said. “We’ve decided young people should not be accountable even if they’re getting hurt – killed. We are failing to protect these kids.”

Tyrone Malone, 17, South Bronx
4 arrests: Three for gun possession on Sept. 10, 2020; March 12, 2021; April 22, 2021. Charged as an adolescent offender in each case.
While free: Killed  Dandre Johnson on Aug. 18, 2021, police say.
Gang affiliation: JackBoyZ/Jackson Avenue Gunnas

Ramon Gil Medrano, 17, Crotona
3 arrests: Two for gun possession on  Dec. 21, 2020, and Feb. 9, 2021; and assault on Aug. 10, 2020. In each case, he was charged as an adolescent offender.
While free: Survived a gang shooting on July 7, 2021. Four days later was shot to death in a July 11 retaliatory gang attack in the Tremont section of the Bronx on East 178th Street. It was revenge for the murder of 13-year-old Jaryan Elliot that same night, police say.
Gang affiliation: 800YGZ