Des Moines community outraged when 4 armed carjacking suspects released from jail

Outrage and fear are looming for some people in Des Moines after four teenagers suspected of armed robbery and carjacking were released from custody. 

Community members said they have several questions why the suspects were released in the first place. There was also an argument about a technicality in the paperwork filed and how the case was handled as potential factors.

One of the victims of the armed robbery said he thought he was almost going to lose his life. He is not revealing his identify for his safety, but explained the details about the terrifying night of Oct. 29. He mentioned he parked his car on a street near his home after work. A neighbor parked behind him. He said moments later, he saw four suspects point loaded guns at his neighbor, stole their cellphone and wallet. The victim said then the suspects saw him sitting in his car.

"They pointed guns at my head, told me to get on the floor and not to look around," he recalled. "Two men were pointing guns at me and the other victim. The other two were searching the car…probably about a minute afterwards, they all jumped in my car and sped off."

Both victims ran for help and flagged down a Des Moines police officer near the intersection of S. 216th Street and Pacific Highway South. Des Moines Police Department said the officer put out a call about the armed robbery, and within 20 minutes, Federal Way Police spotted the stolen car in the area of 32000 Pacific Highway South. Officers chased the car a block down the street where the suspects got out and ran away.

All four suspects—an 18-year-old, two 17-year-olds and a 16-year-old, were caught and taken into custody. All of them were booked on a 72-hour investigative hold. 

However, within less than 72 hours, all four suspects were released after their first appearance court hearing. The judge of the 18-year-old’s case was not available for comment. A representative from King County District Court provided conditions of release for the armed robbery suspect, which included no contact with the two victims and no possession of a firearm.

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office rush-filed charges on Wednesday for the three juvenile suspects. The judge in their first appearance hearings released the teens back to their families, placing two of them on electronic home monitoring.

The victim said the release of all four suspects triggers his frustration and fear.

"I’m angry, I’m disappointed, and truthfully, it says a lot about our criminal justice system not taking situations like this seriously," the victim said.

"The suspects didn’t even try to hide their identity. Made [the victim] feel like they intended to shoot or kill him because they weren’t even trying to hide their identity. They were so bold in acting out their crime," said Des Moines Police Chief Ken Thomas.

A copy of a form filled out by an officer the night of the armed robbery was presented to the court during the first appearance hearings for the suspects. The form was filed to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Casey McNerthney, a spokesperson for the office, said prosecutors used the document to argue detention of all four suspects. On the form, there is a section with a question that asks, "Law Enforcement Object to Release?" Next to the question are two boxes to select yes or no. McNerthney said the "no" box was checked for all suspects involved.

"It noted that they did not object to release for the four folks. The difficulty is even when prosecutors agree with police, which we did here and argued they should be held, sometimes judges look at that and they consider that along with the defense who brings it up which can sometimes lead to peoples release, even over prosecutors objection," said McNerthney.

"I cannot believe that they would say the reason why these serious, violent felons that were a massive danger to our community were released because a checkbox was not checked," said Thomas.

Thomas explained the checkbox is automatically defaulted to a "no" selection. He said this is how the prosecutor’s office set up the form and it is the officer’s responsibility to adjust the answer. 

The police chief said he has vocalized his issue about the default detail to the prosecutor’s office for the past year without seeing any changes.

He said now, the default is stirring up concern for the safety of the community.

"The victim had a gun in his face and his property stolen and his car jacked. So, a checkbox shouldn’t matter. If we’re doing our job and looking out for the community, we should be paying attention to that. And a checkbox shouldn’t overrule whether that person is in custody or not," said Thomas.

"These guys are back out on the streets and I feel like it’s not safe for our community, is definitely not safe for me. And it’s also a slap to the face of the police officers that did all that work to catch these criminals just For them to be let out on the street again," said the victim.

King County Superior Court provided the following statement:

"As part of a hearing to consider continued detention or release of a juvenile, a judge gives due consideration to the facts and circumstances of each case as presented by the parties at the time of the hearing.  A judge takes into account criminal history or lack of criminal history, warrant history, the seriousness of any pending charges, prior presentations to detention, requests and recommendations of the parties and the juvenile probation counselor, and information from the family.  The Court considers but is not bound by a risk assessment tool.  The law requires the least restrictive requirements necessary to protect the public, and the judge must follow the law.

For each of the cases you inquired about, Judge Lee carefully considered all data and information presented and available to the Court.  As noted by the Prosecutor, the information presented to the Court from the documents submitted by law enforcement included that law enforcement did not object to release.  It also included lack of prior criminal history, family availability and support to receive the youth on ankle bracelets (EHM), and recommendations of the Juvenile Probation Counselors against secure detention.  The Prosecutor concurred with detention on EHM for one of the youth."