Arrow-right Camera


Justice Too Little, Comes Too Late Parents Of Wayward Son Say System Didn’t Act Fast Enough

SUNDAY, MAY 28, 1995

These days, Ryan Austin lives on the streets - another runaway with a criminal past and a cloudy future.

If something terrible happens to the 13-year-old boy, his parents will look back at the summer of 1994 as the final missed opportunity.

That’s when Ryan had run-ins with the law - for stealing a bicycle and threatening a kid with a BB gun.

He was arrested, but no criminal charges were filed.

A few weeks later, he was caught stealing cigarettes. A few weeks after that, he was caught stealing candy.

Recoiling from the tough love at home, he ran away, surfacing occasionally at a downtown shelter.

His string of crimes continued, but still no charges were filed. He would be booked into the county detention center and released before his parents could get there.

Ryan began believing he was untouchable.

“He developed a sense of invulnerability,” said David Kirkman, an investigator assigned to Spokane County Juvenile Court.

When prosecutors finally lumped eight charges together in late March, the young defendant was surprised. “I didn’t think I was going to get in trouble,” he told the judge.

His sentence was a year of probation, which doesn’t help much, since Ryan is still away from home, a wannabe gang member hanging out with older boys.

His father, a Spokane Valley business manager, is frustrated.

“My kid has gotten all the wrong messages,” Jesse Austin said.

“Our juvenile justice system is actually encouraging him to raise the ante in terms of what he can get away with.”

The boy’s court-appointed lawyer, Priscilla Vaagen, is convinced early intervention by the juvenile justice system might have straightened Ryan out.

Instead, the outlook is bleak.

Said Vaagen: “A child living on the streets doesn’t have much chance.”

One Graphics: Spokane’s juvenile jail population

Click here to comment on this story »