NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Violent juvenile offenders routinely commit new crimes while they are supposed to be under the supervision of the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation has discovered.
In truth, that investigation discovered, no one has been closely watching those juveniles - making unannounced home visits, for example - to be able to intervene before they go on violent rampages because DCS considered it to be "too difficult."
"They do not sound the alarm, and they don't respond with a sense of urgency," said Davidson County Juvenile Court Administrator Kathy Sinback.
A prime example: 16-year-old Deontaye Gooch-Blacksmith.
Back in October, the Metro Police Department's juvenile crime task force scoured the streets of Nashville for days, looking for the violent repeat offender.
Gooch-Blacksmith was supposed to be under DCS supervision, but the state agency had lost him.
"We were afraid there would be another robbery or someone being injured in the commission of a robbery or auto theft, something along those lines," said Lt. Blaine Whited.
"So it was a very high priority to get him back again into the system before any of our community members got hurt."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained video where Gooch-Blacksmith was caught on camera stealing a car back in 2017.
Our investigation discovered that he was just 13 when he was arrested for that auto theft.
He was placed in DCS custody.
At 15, he was arrested again aggravated robbery.
He was ordered to remain under DCS supervision.
Earlier this year, Gooch-Blacksmith was arrested on a theft charge out of Sumner County and put on DCS probation until 2020.
In June, now age 16, he was arrested for aggravated robbery, accused of jumping into a woman's car with a handgun and robbing her.
But DCS did not revoke his probation.
Two months later, he was arrested especially aggravated robbery, charged this time with shooting a man in the stomach at a truck stop off Trinity Lane during an attempted robbery.
DCS put him on an ankle monitor while he awaited trial, but then Gooch-Blacksmith stopped charging it and disappeared.
Police worried what he might do next.
"It really places our community members in danger and that, to us, is something we have no tolerance for because it is literally life and death," Whited said.
The 16 year old was eventually taken into custody after officers spotted him driving a stolen car.
Police say he refused to stop, forcing them to eventually deploy spike strips to deflate the car's tires.
"A lot can go wrong with that, so that's the last thing we ever want to do," the task force lieutenant added.
"But we had to get involved with it because we had to remove him off the streets before a community member got hurt."
A week earlier, members of the juvenile crime task force arrested 17-year-old Reginald Williams Jr., another juvenile who was supposed to be supervised by the state.
Williams was actually still wearing a working DCS ankle monitor when, according to police, he went on a violent late-night crime spree that included the shooting and wounding of a female Lyft driver and the sexual assault of a second driver.
Two years earlier, Williams had been implicated in the armed robbery of a cab driver.
But police say when his ankle monitor showed he was again out on the town, DCS never alerted them, potentially giving them a chance to interrupt his violent rampage.
"This is past curfew obviously," Whited said, "and there is no one reaching out to us telling us that, 'Hey, this youth is out past their curfew, they are not in zones or areas where they are supposed to be.'"
And police say DCS also never told them that Jeroy Green III had let his ankle monitor go dead for several weeks.
Investigators discovered it themselves when Green became a suspect in the September 28th murder of 18-year-old Samuel Jordan Calvert.
"I needed someone to understand that we needed to urgently deal with this," said homicide detective Jesse Holt.
Even when Holt told a DCS supervisor that Green was a suspect, she was in no hurry to ask that he be arrested for going off the radar, the detective said.
"Finding out that it had already been discharged for so long was disturbing, finding out it was uncharged the day of the homicide disturbing and then to continuously have to kind of urge them along to get this corrected was more than disturbing," Holt added.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Is it possible that Samuel Calvert would still be alive if DCS had done it's job?"
"I think that the lack of continuous accountability that Jeroy Green probably felt emboldened him to be where he was," Holt answered.
DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols said, "If he says it was disturbing to him, I know it was."
Nichols added that she gets why, when Green disappeared, the detective thought the caseworker should have acted more urgently.
"That seems so common sense to him as a police officer and perhaps to you as an investigative reporter who has covered so many of these things. It seems logical to me as a career prosecutor," the DCS commissioner said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "But it didn't seem logical to the caseworker?"
"I want you to think about the caseworkers," she answered. "They are not law enforcement. They are not prosecutors."
The Juvenile Court administrator, Kathy Sinback, noted that Davidson County's own juvenile probation officers routinely ride with task force officers, making unannounced visits to search the rooms of high-risk offenders who are on probation - something that DCS doesn't do with even more dangerous offenders.
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Lt. Whited agreed.
"Our local-level offenders are getting these checks by the probation officers, by us at the police department," the lieutenant added.
NewsChannel 5 noted, "And they are not as dangerous."
"They are generally not considered at the threat level that the children in the Department of Children's Services supervision are," Whited acknowledged.
"They are not receiving these kinds of checks. They are not expecting to receive a knock at the door and have the Department of Children's Services officer be there with the Metro Police Department. That's not happening."
Whited called that "a big missing piece."
"You have to have the accountability."
The DCS commissioner's staff recently told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that such unannounced home visits are just too difficult.
"Unannounced home visits are fine, but we should know they are not there by monitor alerts," Nichols said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates observed, "But if you do an unannounced home visit, you may find the kid has a gun."
"Ok, so if you go in an search the house?" Nichols answered. "I see what you are saying."
Whited said, "It's not unusual for those probation officers to recover firearms, ammunition, firearm magazines, high quantities of narcotics and loads of keys to stolen vehicles."
Sinback pointed to a recent case where a probation officer found a bullet in a juvenile's room.
"Now, that child is still at home with increased supervision," Sinback said. "We didn't find a gun, but we think that child is hanging out with people who have guns and we think there is a really high risk that that child is going to end up with a gun. So we are completely on top of that case.
"DCS wouldn't ever find that little bullet. They wouldn't know that this is a child that you need to watch day and night."
Nichols responded, "I am open 100 percent to considering those."
While we were investigating, the commissioner -- who took over the department this year -- asked for the money to keep serious offenders on ankle monitors for 90 days after they are released from a facility, instead of the current 30 days.
And Children's Services caseworkers were directed to alert police if a juvenile goes off the radar or if the electronic monitors show he or she is somewhere they shouldn't be.
"The policy for DCS now is that if a monitor goes dead or if a youth is out after curfew, a couple of phone calls are made," Nichols explained.
"You call the caregiver, you call the parent. If they are supposed to be in school and they are not in school, you call the school. If you can't put your hands on the child immediately, then you call law enforcement."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Why wasn't that always the policy?"
"I can only answer what the policy has been since I've been here," Nichols said.
"I wish you would come back a year from now. I don't think the department will be the same department."
Metro Police said DCS notifying them of having lost track of Deontaye Gooch-Blacksmith shows that things may be changing - because they never got such notifications before.
All changes that the head of the task force says seems directly related to the questions being asked by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
"I would absolutely say that your knocking on someone's doors or your questions have opened the minds at that agency to implementing new things and things that is going to make a difference in our communities," Whited said.
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