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KARE 11 Investigates: Legislators failing to reform broken juvenile competency system

A teen accused of shooting a man in the head was found incompetent to stand trial, then let go. He’s now charged with shooting another man in the head.

Lauren Leamanczyk, Brandon Stahl (KARE11), Steve Eckert

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Published: 7:54 PM CDT May 11, 2023
Updated: 10:20 PM CDT May 11, 2023

Hawa Lobeh fears leaving her apartment after what happened to her in February.

A 16-year-old boy pointed a gun at her in her apartment’s parking lot, then demanded her purse and her car as she begged him not to shoot.

Since then, she’s been unable to work because of the trauma and unable to afford repairs on the car after the teen crashed it into a snowbank. She thought she was going to die that day.

“It changed everything,” she said.

Credit: KARE 11
Hawa Lobeh was carjacked in her Brooklyn Park apartment's parking lot in February. She has been unable to work due to the trauma from that day.

And yet, “Police said, ‘You are the lucky one,’’ she said.

Lucky because an hour earlier, police believe the same teen shot a man in the head outside of a nearby market, nearly killing him.

That man is still in the hospital.

Members of the anti-violence nonprofit Minnesota Acts Now were there and worked to save the victim’s life.

“We did not think that he would survive that shooting,” said Bishop Harding Smith, who leads Minnesota Acts Now. “What happened that day never should’ve happened.”

Only eight months earlier, the teen was accused of shooting another victim in the head at a Brooklyn Park gas station.

(Editor's note: KARE 11 generally does not name juveniles charged with crimes)

In that case, the teen, who already faced more than a dozen other crimes, was found mentally incompetent to stand trial due to his mental health and low cognitive functioning.

Credit: KARE 11
A 16-year-old is charged with shooting a man at this gas station in May 2022. He was released and is now charged with another shooting in February 2023.

His shooting case was suspended, and he was then released to his mother, court records show. At the same time, more than a dozen misdemeanor charges were dismissed.

He became a gap case, falling through a loophole in Minnesota law that lets juvenile suspects charged with crimes go free without required mental health treatment or supervision.

There are roughly 300 kids each year found incompetent to stand trial, according to state court data.

Credit: KARE 11

With no program to restore kids to competency, Ramsey County Judge JaPaul Harris said his and other judges’ hands are tied in those cases.

He worries about the public’s safety due to gap cases.

“We cannot do anything with that case until that kid reaches competency,” he said.

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