, Gloucester, MA


August 5, 2013

Editorial: Judge, 'what were you thinking?'

The three young adults charged with malicious destruction of property for firing BB pellets at and damaging parked cars during a little mischievous ride in a Mercedes last month had the right answers last week when Salem District Court Judge Michael Lauranzano asked what they were thinking.

Erik Dahlen, 18, of Manchester, and the man at the wheel of the Mercedes, said he thought “I probably shouldn’t be doing this.” Brian Gibson, also 18 and a Manchester Eagle Scout, said he’d made a “bad choice,” and Sean Desmond of Essex, a 19-year-old volunteer firefighter, said he was thinking “clearly nothing good.”

But Judge Lauranzano should also be asked the same after he agreed with the teens’ attorneys and granted a general continuance — which requires no record of any admission of wrongdoing and will lead to the charged being dropped altogether after six months if the darlings avoid any more trouble.

Why? Because, as the judge said in part, “each of you has had tremendous advantages in your life that most of the 18- and 19-year-olds I see here on a daily basis do not” — and because of the work that their parents had done to provide those advantages and opportunities.

OK, the teens agreed to pay restitution to one of the victims whose insurance didn’t cover the damage. And Danvers police Sgt. David Joyce, the department’s police prosecutor, recognized that, while potentially very dangerous, this wasn’t exactly the North Shore’s most heinous crime. He urged Lauranzano to continue the case without a finding for three months — which would also lead to dismissal, but would at least required the three to formally admit to the charges.

That would have made sense. Yet the judge gave the “kids” a pass because their parents have set them up with “tremendous advantages ...” and “opportunities.” That suggests he likely would have handled it differently if they were, for example, minority kids from a more urban environment, and that’s a horrific message to send.

Judge Lauranzano, what were you thinking?

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