In a well-known paradigm, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports on how a young criminal stayed free to become a more dangerous older criminal.
“When it came to violent crime, Armando Barragan started young, shooting up a van of rival gang members at age 14 and, eight months later, attacking a Milwaukee police officer, trying to grab his gun.
“The crimes landed Barragan in the juvenile justice system, but he got breaks that kept him on the street, where he committed new crimes, according to Children's Court records and police reports reviewed by the Journal Sentinel.
“Barragan quickly rose to become a leader of the Latin Kings and was charged with ordering the execution of a man who tried to stop a fight outside a Cudahy gas station in 2003 - one of six homicides or attempted homicides he was investigated for by the time he was 18.
“The Journal Sentinel reported in July that miscommunication between federal and state authorities resulted in missing a chance to arrest Barragan in a courtroom before he fled to Mexico and became one of the U.S. Marshals Service's most wanted fugitives.
“Court documents show Barragan could have - and probably should have - been behind bars in April 2003, when Kevin Hirschfield was shot to death outside the gas station. He was free because of breaks he received, first from a judge and later from police, according to court records and interviews.
“The failure to hold Barragan accountable for crimes he committed as a child is the latest example of how a cagey gang leader beat the criminal justice system. The case shows that a teenager who says and does the right things can avoid punishment in the children's system, or at least delay it.
"He absolutely worked the system to his advantage, but that is the way the system is designed," said Milwaukee Assistant District Attorney Joy Hammond, who handled part of Barragan's case and added that the system remains largely unchanged eight years later. "The smart kids know what to say, and they are home in two seconds and out doing what they want."
“Kevin Hirschfield's sister said she is outraged by the latest revelation about failures to hold Barragan accountable.
"How could one man cheat the system so much and get away with it?" Amy Hirschfield said. "I don't understand what people were thinking."