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Editorial: Too violent for program, he gets released onto streets?

What are the odds a young man deemed too violent for a youth reintegration program would be allowed to just go free? And then be expected to walk the straight and narrow on Albuquerque streets?

That’s what Albuquerque residents are left betting on now that mobbing defendant Enrique Palomino, 18, is out, just in time for the holidays.

And what are the odds anyone would even know that Palomino was being released, or that prosecutors and social service staff maintain he’s a continuing “danger to the community,” under a proposed court rule shielding juvenile court records from view?

Those are undisputedly zero.

Palomino and five other teenagers were arrested in July 2015 after a “mobbing” rampage of breaking into homes and vehicles in the Northeast Heights that included the fatal shooting of homeowner Steven Gerecke in his driveway. Palomino, who was 14 at the time of the mobbing, pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary, conspiracy, larceny and taking a motor vehicle. Since then he has been in and out of treatment facilities, and during a stint in a Utah program he allegedly beat up another youth, then escaped.

Back in New Mexico, Children, Youth and Families Department officials argued in September that Palomino should be incarcerated at a juvenile detention facility until age 21 because he posed a continuing “danger to the community.” Children’s Court Judge John Romero put him on supervised probation on Oct. 26 but wanted him in a youth reintegration center or other transitional program. One day later, on Oct. 27, Palomino is alleged to have punched a 17-year-old in the face during a basketball game at the juvenile detention center in Albuquerque. So the DA’s Office sought to revoke his probation and filed a felony child-abuse charge, and Palomino was arrested and held at the adult Metropolitan Detention Center pending further hearings.

Then the alleged victim from the basketball game refused to testify, the charge was dropped, and despite efforts by his attorney, the judge and juvenile justice probation officials, no program would accept him.

So what to do with Palomino? Well, why not ignore all those warnings and just set him free – with a stretched-thin support system to help ensure he does not re-offend? The MDC released Palomino to serve his supervised probation until he is 21. Now CYFD is expected to keep tabs on him for the next two years and make sure he gets counseling and his high school diploma or GED. For those residents worried about their safety and advocates worried about helping Palomino turn his life around, Diana Garcia, 2nd Judicial District deputy district attorney in the juvenile division, has this:

“The case is done. He’s on probation. Until he violates probation, there’s nothing that we can do.”

Now that an 18-year-old Palomino has ended up on CYFD’s probation check list, we urge CYFD officials to do their due diligence to make sure he adheres to the minimal terms of his probation and is steered to programs that will hopefully help him change his life’s path.

And we urge the New Mexico Supreme Court to reject proposed new rules that would seal many juvenile court records, including Palomino’s. The argument is that this secrecy would protect individuals from being haunted by “youthful indiscretions.” Palomino has been accused of many things; youthful indiscretion is not one of them.

As for the system that dumped Palomino out on the street? There’s simply no defense for putting both the community and a young serious offender at risk.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.