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Emergency reopening of juvenile detention center in Westmoreland County after teens Braedon Dickinson and Robert Cogdell Escape

12 Dec 2023, Jail News, by

Teens Dickinson and Cogdell’s escape from Westmoreland County juvenile shelter prompts the emergency reopening of a detention center.

Emergency reopening of juvenile detention center in Westmoreland County after teens Braedon Dickinson and Robert Cogdell Escape - Inmate Lookup

The Westmoreland County juvenile detention director revealed on Monday that two teenagers, Braedon Dickinson, 16, and Robert Cogdell, 14, facing criminal charges, left the non-secure shelter they were residing in, prompting a subsequent multi-agency search.

They were accused of stealing a white Ford F-150 King Ranch truck containing a .45-caliber handgun. By Monday morning, both Dickinson and Cogdell were in custody, prompting authorities to assess the circumstances leading to their escape.

Facility director Rich Gordon outlined that they were commencing their evening routine, noting that the youths were seated, watching TV, when abruptly, they stood up and ran out the back. Gordon clarified that their shelter lacks security measures, stating that under state law, there’s nothing to prevent them from running, and they can come and go.

Westmoreland District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli expressed concern, advocating for the housing of juveniles charged with serious violent crimes in secured facilities to mitigate risks to public safety and law enforcement.

Jonathan Lindsay, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 62, stated that if the juveniles had not been in an unsecured shelter, the potential threat to the public and law enforcement could have been avoided.

In response to the incident, the county commissioners approved the limited reopening of a juvenile detention center within the same building as the shelter. The detention center, closed since June due to staffing shortages and inadequate training, was reopened to address what was deemed an emergency situation.

Commissioner Ted Kopas described it as a crisis, and Commissioner Sean Kertes outlined that, initially, only Dickinson and another unidentified boy would be accommodated in the 16-bed detention center until additional staff was hired.

According to the police, Dickinson and Cogdell reportedly fled from the Westmoreland County juvenile detention on Saturday night. The shelter is located in the same building as the Regional Youth Services Center, although in a different section.

It was confirmed by authorities that Dickinson, had been placed in the secure center, which had been closed since June due to staffing shortages and deficiencies discovered during state inspections, revealing understaffing and inadequate staff training.

Dickinson and six others were charged with second-degree murder last year for shooting 39-year-old Jason Raiford in New Kensington on July 3, 2022. Unrelated drug and weapons charges were brought against Cogdell, officials said.

State police captured Dickinson and Cogdell on Monday morning after a foot chase in Fayette County, but the location of Cogdell’s detention was not disclosed by the authorities.

Gordon reported that Dickinson had been a resident of the facility since November 14. Before the juvenile detention center closed last spring, he had been detained there. Following a failed suicide attempt, his criminal case was transferred to the juvenile court system, and he was subsequently placed on home arrest. Dickinson went on the run this summer and was apprehended last month, according to officials.

The legality of District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli’s motion to remand Dickinson’s case to adult court is to be decided during a hearing on December 21. According to officials, the hearing was set for earlier this month, prior to Dickinson’s escape.

Cogdell had been residing at the shelter since Oct. 25, according to Gordon.

In a notable decision, Common Pleas Court Judge Michele Bononi, responsible for overseeing the county’s juvenile courts, authorized Dickinson’s placement in the shelter program. Judge Bononi explained that there was no alternative placement when Dickinson was picked up in November, emphasizing that it was done to protect him and the community.

The eight-bed shelter program in Westmoreland County is designed for troubled youth and teens with nowhere to go and is typically monitored by the county’s children’s bureau. The facility don’t have locks on doors, and there are no guards to keep the residents in.

Controller Jeff Balzer, chairman of the county’s juvenile detention board, highlighted the shortage of options following the temporary closure of the juvenile detention center in June.

A study by Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission in May revealed limited government-operated juvenile detention centers in western Pennsylvania, including Westmoreland’s facility and a 20-bed center in Erie.

Pittsburgh’s Shuman Juvenile Detention Center closed its doors in 2021. Officials from Allegheny County are preparing for its reopening in 2024.

Lindsay emphasized the incident as indicative of a nationwide crisis involving an increase in youthful violent offenders. He stressed the need for a secure facility to house serious and violent juvenile offenders, preventing their return to the streets to reoffend.

County leaders have been planning for months to reopen Westmoreland’s juvenile detention center, with five new staff members hired since Nov. 23, bringing the roster to six employees. Gordon noted the necessity of at least a dozen workers for the 16-bed detention facility to resume full operations.

Balzer stated that they were striving to open the juvenile detention facility by the end of the month.