Prince George's County officials called the teen curfew a success so far, saying no teens were issued warnings or detained. The curfew for youth 16 and younger went into effect Friday in response to a rise in juvenile crime in the county.
Now, there are changes at the Prince George's County Courthouse after complaints juveniles were not being held accountable.
Ja'Ka McNight's 13-year-old son, King Douglas, was shot and killed by a 12-year-old outside the Forestville Dave & Buster’s in April 2021. Last month, the shooter was sentenced to supervised probation at home, although the state's attorney asked he be held in juvenile corrections.
“I couldn't believe that that was the verdict,” McNight said. “After a child murdering another child, that's what you allow, for someone to just walk away.”
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Judge Peter Killough, who was in charge of Prince George's County's juvenile court, presided over King's case. A court memorandum obtained by News4 shows Killough has been replaced and Judge Michael Pearson will run juvenile court starting Monday.
“Somebody has got to take responsibility for these armed and dangerous children, and it is not just the police and not just the government,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said last week when announcing the curfew.
The move comes after some county officials said there was a lack of accountability for repeat juvenile offenders within the court system.
“To some of you judges who are letting these individuals, you’re going to have to deal with this County Council,” Prince George’s County Council Chair Calvin Hawkins said last week.
In an exclusive interview with News4 last week, Circuit Court Administrative Judge Shelia Tillerson Adams reinforced that the county's courts are independent.
“All judges are as concerned about violence and crime in our county as anyone else, but we have a different responsibility, and that responsibility is to try to the case in front of us,” she said.
Days later, Tillerson Adams issued the rotation schedule reassigning Killough. A spokesperson said it's not usual to rotate judge assignments.
McNight said it was just in time for the latest hearing in her son's case Monday. The shooter was trying to have his ankle monitor removed. The new judge denied the request.
“With Judge Pearson, there is a big difference,” McNight said. “I feel that he is fair on both sides. He did hear us out and he was fair. His ruling, I was satisfied with what he ruled.”
Several sources within the Prince George’s County court system said Killough was removed from his position after allowing another child who had been charged with murder to return home instead of holding him in juvenile detention.
Killough said he could not comment, citing court protocol.
Tillerson Adams’ office said the new assignment does not mean Pearson will be the only judge handling juvenile matters and does not preclude Killough from handling a juvenile case going forward.
State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy sent a statement saying, “The State’s Attorney’s Office has and will always respect any decision or order of the court. We will continue to focus on the priorities of our office, which include public safety, integrity and accountability while pursing justice in a fair and transparent manner. As such, we look forward to working with Judge Michael Pearson as the new juvenile coordinating judge for the Circuit Court of Prince George’s County.”
The Circuit Court for Prince George’s County sent the following statement:
“When it comes to the allocation of Judicial resources within the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, the judges’ assignments are usually reviewed in September. Chief and Administrative Judge Sheila R. Tillerson Adams determined that it was in the best interest of the court and the community that we serve to consolidate all juvenile functions under one judge. Therefore, juvenile cases, Juvenile Drug Court and Juvenile Diversion Court will now all be coordinated by one judge, the Honorable Michael R. Pearson, the newly assigned juvenile coordinating judge. This will give the coordinating judge the big picture of all juvenile matters and the corresponding resources that are available within the court to make an impact on the lives of juveniles that come before the court. It was important that this new rotation was in place before the next Criminal Coordinating Council meeting, which is scheduled for later this month.
“The Criminal Coordinating Council, co-chaired by the chief and administrative judge of the Circuit Court, the administrative judge of the District Court and the deputy chief administrative officer of public safety for Prince George’s County, is comprised of stakeholders who meet regularly to address issues affecting the criminal justice system within the county.
“Furthermore, this new judicial assignment does not mean that Judge Pearson will be the only judge handling juvenile matters, nor does it preclude Judge Peter K. Killough from handling a juvenile case going forward.”