URBANA — A 15-year-old who took part in a February brawl at Urbana High School that caused the school to dismiss early and left a teacher injured has been sentenced to prison.
Judge Heidi Ladd said she was struggling over her sentencing decision for the 15-year-old boy until she read the updated report from the Juvenile Detention Center detailing his fascination with rap lyrics about gang violence, his use of gang symbols, and his threats to staff.
Ladd used the words "astounded" and "flabbergasted" to describe her reaction to the youth's behavior within the past few days, knowing he was about to be sentenced for the Feb. 4 melee at the high school.
"He is enamored with this entire mentality of gangs," Ladd observed.
Authorities have said it was a fight between two rival gangs whose members have been feuding since they were in middle school.
The youth pleaded guilty Feb. 13 to mob action in the high school fight and was released pending sentencing. However, he was arrested again for mob action on April 1 with three other youths, including one charged in the February high school brawl. The four allegedly beat up another Urbana High student that they thought may have been involved in the Feb. 4 fight at the school.
State's Attorney Julia Rietz said she reluctantly recommended probation for the youth because this was his first adjudication, and she wanted to see him get help in the community with his issues, including his daily use of cannabis, anger management and violent behavior toward authority, before being given the ultimate punishment of imprisonment.
Acknowledging that the fight at the high school was a "significant disruption," Rietz said the teen being sentenced Thursday was not in the area where the teacher was hurt as she tried to break up the fight.
She also said he had many adults in his life willing to support him.
The boy's attorney, Matt Lee of Champaign, said much of the youth's aggression and substance abuse stemmed from seeing his best friend shot July 20 in a north Urbana neighborhood as he was riding on the handlebars of a bicycle. The friend was left paralyzed from the waist down.
Urbana police continue to investigate that shooting and have yet to forward a final report to Rietz.
The teen's mother testified that whoever shot her son's friend has not been arrested and that the fight at the high school in early February stemmed from the shooting.
The mother also admitted she was not aware of her son's daily cannabis use, his bad behavior in detention or his association with friends he had been court-ordered not to hang out with.
She told Rietz she would watch him more closely and rely on her mother and best friend to help her.
Ladd said the mother was trying hard to raise her son and two others still at home but said that until the teen is willing to shed the "get-even mentality," he posed a danger to the community.
"This is not the way to survive, to get through life. You're part of the problem," Ladd said.
The judge conferred what is called an "interim commitment" to juvenile prison on the youth, meaning his case will be reviewed July 2. If he has made progress, he could be released. If not, he could be held for up to three years, the maximum sentence behind bars for mob action.