Disability Issue May Keep Young Killer Out of State Juvenile Facility

When a now 13-year-old boy was found to have knowingly murdered his father at age 10, it appeared the boy would be committed to a term at a state of California juvenile justice facility.

But that may be precluded under federal law relating to the boy's disabilities, his advocates are arguing on two legal fronts.

"Because our child is disabled and protected under (federal law), we're looking at a placement where he can be rehabilitated," said Punam Patel Grewal, co-counsel for the child.

As a matter of policy, NBCLA does not name minors in criminal cases.

The boy's father, Jeffrey Hall, 32, was shot to death in the early morning hours of May 1, 2011 as he slept on the couch of the Riverside home he shared with his wife and five children.

The oldest son never disputed that he took his father's .357 and shot him. Justice Department records show that patricide is exceedingly rare - only a handful of cases have been reported in recent decades.

What brought the Riverside case even more notoriety was the victim's activism as a Neo-Nazi. But that is not the issue that concerns the boy's advocates.

Their legal arguments focus on the boy's learning and behavioral issues that they contend must be treated as disabilities.

Behavioral problems first became apparent in the pre-school "Head Start" program, and continued throughout his schooling, and were documented in official records, said Grewal. She became co-counsel in March, two months after the court found the boy had committed murder.

His attorneys cite the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as authority for their assertion that a disability assessment is required before the court determines where to place the boy, and that he cannot be placed in a facility where there are not provisions to meet his special educational needs.

The protections afforded by IDEA are not affected by a finding the child has committed a serious crime, according to Grewal.

"It's a shield that cannot be removed unless there is a determination the disability is not there," Grewal said.

While the boy has been held at Riverside Juvenile Hall during the past two years, his education has been the responsibility of the Riverside County Department of Education. In juvenile court, as well as in an administrative case, the boy's attorneys contend the Education Department has failed to fulfill its obligations under IDEA.

As a step to getting a court order compelling the County Department to perform assessments of the boy, his attorneys have filed a motion for the Department to be "joined" to the juvenile court case. Riverside County opposed this in a response filed in July.

County Education "is not part of the juvenile matter unless the court wants to make it so," said Jack B. Clark, Jr. an attorney with Best Best & Krieger, a law firm retained by Riverside County. Privacy protections for juveniles preclude him from discussing specifics of the boy's circumstances, Clark said.

But he challenged any contention that the County Department has duties under IDEA that it's failed to carry out. Recently, the boy was transferred to a California Juvenile Justice facility in Stockton for pre-placement "diagnostics," Grewal said she was informed. She visited him there last Friday.

"He's concerned about his safety, his personal safety," said Grewal, noting that if the boy were committed to a state facility, he would be the youngest child in the system. California Juvenile Justice was formerly known as the California Youth Authority (or "CYA") until a major reorganization in 2005.

In the lawsuit Farrell v. Allen, the state was accused of failing to properly protect, care for, and educate children in its responsibility. The state agreed to terms specified in a consent decree.

Since then, the state has closed a number of juvenile facilities, and only those in Stockton and Ventura remain. So if not a state justice facility, where should the court send a youth with a record of violent actions, including the intentional murder of his father? The District Attorney's office has taken the position the boy needs to remain secured.

The boy's advocates do not dispute that, but suggest there are private alternatives.

"Absolutely," said Steve Figueroa, an education advocate who is working with the boy's legal team. "There are facilities inside California and also outside."

In some cases, juvenile offenders are kept in county juvenile hall, but the boy's team would prefer placement in a special purpose private institution.

The "disposition" hearing to resolve the boy's placement had been scheduled for next Monday. But on August 5th, Judge Jean Pfeiffer Leonard suspended proceedings after the boy's attorneys brought a recusal  motion for a different judge to take over the case, and the disposition hearing was postponed till October.

Thursday, the boy's legal team was notified that the recusal motion was rejected, according to attorney Marc Elliot Grossman.

Since the boy was originally taken into juvenile custody, it's been disclosed that child protective authorities were repeatedly called to the household.

There were allegations that Jeffrey Hall had physically abused his wife and children. Attorneys for the boy intend to cite his mental state in an appeal of Judge Leonard's original finding of a knowingly committed intentional murder. But such an appeal cannot be filed until after a ruling on his placement.

A fund has been set up for the boy's legal expenses.

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