The S.C. Board of Juvenile Parole will decide Monday if a 16-year-old of Syrian descent from York who allegedly planned to join ISIS and plotted to kill American soldiers will be released after less than a year in prison.
But because the teen was convicted only on a gun charge and not a terrorism plot, his potential release is not considered among the most serious cases the state’s juvenile parole board reviews. However, York police say the potential release could not be more serious.
York Police Department’s chief and the lead detective who interrogated the suspect will urge the board to keep the teen in prison because the safety of not just York County, but America, is at stake. The police have written letters urging the board to keep the teen in a jail for juveniles.
“I am going to do everything in my power to protect not just the people of York and York County, but the citizens of this country,” said Andy Robinson, York police chief. “What we found were credible threats to American soldiers and America.”
York police said the teen may be the youngest person in America who tried to join ISIS but was stopped by law enforcement.
The teen is an American citizen. His family has been in York for many years. However, his family are immigrants from Syria and the connection to Syria was part of his alleged plot.
WHO DECIDES MONDAY?
Toni Vanlue, director of the juvenile parole board, said the teen will have a parole hearing Monday. The Juvenile parole board has seven members, all appointed by the governor and approved by the state Senate. None of those members are from York County. The members are: Lesa T. Chandler of Central; R. Russell Boyd of Greenville; Oscar L. Douglas of Summerville; Barbara W. Mishoe of Greeleyville; Robert J. Reid of Charleston; Carla J. Smalls of Irmo; and Kimberly H. Frederick of Surfside Beach, according to the S.C. Legislative Manual.
Release for what the state considers the most serious cases requires all seven members to hear the case and four to approve a release, Vanlue said.
Monday’s case of the York teen requires a panel of at least three, or up to four, members of the parole board to hear the case, Vanlue said. All those present must unanimously vote for parole for the teen be be released , Vanlue said.
Because he was prosecuted as a juvenile, his sentence will end at age 21. Because of his age, he will be up for parole at least every three months until age 21.
York police want his release to be later.
“He has not served enough time for the actions he was going to carry out,” Robinson said.
PLOT TO ROB AND KILL
The teen’s name has not been released because of his age. He pleaded guilty to possession of a pistol – the maximum charge that state prosecutors could pursue because South Carolina does not have a terrorism statute, and the federal government chose not to pursue any charges against the teen. There was an FBI investigation into the teen and another man. Prosecutors said in Family Court in April that the teen plotted with an adult from Raleigh, N.C., to rob a gun store and then use the weapons to kill soldiers at military bases in North Carolina.
The teen was radicalized, and met the other man, through social media, prosecutors said.
The arrest of the teen was cloaked in secrecy. Police were alerted that the teen, who attended York Comprehensive High School, was boasting he wanted to join ISIS. At least one student told police that the teen brought a gun and ammunition to school.
When York police investigated, they found that the teen had a gun, an ISIS flag, and electronic and social media correspondence with another unnamed man documenting the plot to rob the store and kill soldiers over American involvement in the Middle East.
Police arrested the teen just days before the alleged plot was set to be carried out. The teen was held in custody for two months until his guilty plea. York police didn’t release information on the arrest until the guilty plea because the threat to public safety had been stopped with the arrest, and the federal/local investigation that was ongoing.
Only when the teen pleaded guilty and was sentenced did York County police and prosecutors speak in court, allowing the public to find out about the plot.
TEEN’S INTENT DEBATED
The teen had no criminal record before his arrest in 2015. The teen’s lawyer for the court hearing in April, York County Deputy Public Defender B.J. Barrowclough, downplayed the teen’s intention to join ISIS or commit the other crimes. Barrowclough said the word “ISIS” turned the case from a gun charge into a national security case that the teen never wanted to go through with. The teen had become despondent after the death of his father, Barrowclough said, and knew that his family had suffered in Syria under tyranny.
Barrowclough denied the teen posed a threat to public safety. The teen’s mother and uncle both said in court in April that the teen had made a mistake, but did not try to excuse his behavior.
Inmates seeking parole are not given a court appointed lawyer as in criminal courts. It is unclear if anyone will speak on the teen’s behalf Monday. Barrowclough said he has been told the teen has “done extremely well,” in the juvenile justice system.
16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett, who prosecuted the teen and told the Family Court judge in April of the alleged ISIS and mass murder plots, said that he understands that the juvenile is entitled to a parole hearing, and under state law eventually will be released. His office prosecuted the teen to the maximum penalty under South Carolina law for the weapon crime.
“All we can hope for is Department of Juvenile Justice officials and their experts who deal with juveniles in the system have done their job and been able to reach this young man and deal with his problems,” Brackett said.
York police say delaying that release will protect the public.
“I do not think he has served enough time for the actions he planned on carrying out,” said chief Robinson. “It is not long enough for his ideals to change. We don’t know what to expect of him.”