Two juveniles confessed to setting an unoccupied home on fire in Picher on Christmas day, according to Ottawa County Undersheriff Bob Ernst.
The boys, 12 and 13, told authorities they had entered the home on at least six different occasions and took numerous items that were stored there, according to the investigation report.
At approximately 4 p.m. Dec. 25, the boys said they were in the house and found some lighter fluid. They told authorities they poured lighter fluid on some newspapers inside the house and lit the paper.
Deputies found several items that had been taken from the house at each of they boys’ residences.
The juveniles were then taken into police custody for their alleged participation in arson, burglary and possession of stolen property.
Juvenile process draws criticism
After the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office detained the two juveniles, Deputy Justin Judd contacted juvenile officer David Durossette.
A short time later, the juveniles were released, drawing criticism from local law enforcement officials who believe that the process of dealing with juvenile offenders is flawed and carries little consequence for their illegal actions.
According to juvenile services officer Chris Snodderly, the decision as to whether or not a juvenile is detained is up to the juvenile affairs office.
Until a decision is reached, attendant care workers sit with young offenders until a detention bed is secured.
“The only reason we would hold them is if they were a danger to themselves or someone else or they are repeat offenders,” Snodderly said. “Typically, they are released to a parent or guardian.”
Durossette called Judd back a short time later to tell Judd to release the juveniles to their parents because he was unable to find someone to “babysit” the juveniles at the jail.
Authorities say releasing them to a parent is not a solution.
“What good does that do,” Ernst said. “We release them to their parents so they can go break more laws without consequence.”
Officers say many juveniles know the routine and know that they will be released to their parents after a short trip in a patrol car, therefore, there is no deterrent.
According to Snodderly, bed space for juveniles is limited in Oklahoma.
“We currently contract with 12 juvenile facilities in the state,” Snodderly said. “The closest is Vinita, the farthest is in Woodward.”
Juvenile affairs officers could not say whether or not either of the individuals involved in Tuesday’s fire have a history of offenses, authorities believe they may be responsible for additional burglaries in the area.
“They may be the same two that broke the windows at the Gorilla Cage restaurant on (Dec. 23),” said Quapaw Police Chief Gary Graham said.
Authorities also suspect that the juveniles may be responsible for a fire that occurred hours before the fire on Alta Street in Picher. That property was also abandonded and owned by the state.