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Man Charged After Detaining Vandals in Closet Until Police Arrive

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A New York man was recently charged with four counts of Endangering the Welfare of Children after he discovered four juveniles, ages 8 through 10, destroying his father-in-law's house and locked them in a closet until police arrived. The 53-year old man had been remodeling the father-in-law's house while the family was away, so the vacant home was a perfect target for the young hoodlums. The man lived next door to the home, and, one evening, he heard pounding noises coming from the home. Upon entering the residence, he saw that the four boys had spray painted derogatory statements and had used hammers to put holes in the walls and break windows. In total, the boys caused over $40,000.00 in damage.

After the man saw the carnage in the house, he took a hammer from one of the boys and ordered all of the boys into a closet. The man's wife had called 911 before he had left his own house to investigate the destruction that was occurring next door, so the man knew that the police were on the way. The police arrived, the boys were released from their temporary holding cell, and the boys claimed that the man had threatened them with the hammer. Based the allegations of threats from the child vandals, the man was then charged with four counts of Endangering the Welfare of Children, one for each boy.

Pennsylvania Criminal Charges

Had this occurred in Pennsylvania, the man would not have been charged with Endangering the Welfare of Children. A charge of Endangering the Welfare of Children in Pennsylvania only applies to a parent, guardian, or person supervising someone under 18 who violates a duty of care, protection or support. Had this occurred in Pennsylvania, the man would likely have been charged with Terroristic  Threats or Simple Assault. Terroristic Threats prohibits a person from threatening to commit a crime of violence with the intent to terrorize another. While most people think of Simple Assault as being based upon causing or attempting to cause a bodily injury, there is another section of the Pennsylvania Simple Assault law that prohibits a person from attempting by physical menace to put another in fear of serious bodily injury. Holding a hammer and threatening to hit someone in the head would readily satisfy the elements of both charges.

Prosecutorial Discretion - Should the man have been charged?

While the man COULD be charged with Simple Assault and Terroristic Threats in Pennsylvania, a more important issue is whether the man SHOULD be charged. In my opinion, the man should not be charged with anything. It is clear that the juveniles caused extensive damage to the home, as evidenced by the photos and damage value of over $40,000.00, so I think that the man actually exercised restraint in not physically harming the children in any manner. The man basically conducted a citizen's arrest. The children were unharmed and turned over to the police without delay or additional intimidation. In my opinion, no harm, no foul, so the police were wrong in filing charges here.

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