By Michael E. Miller
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Still, within a couple days, police investigators had a pretty good idea they knew the identity of at least one participant. "And that gave us an understanding of what group we were dealing with," says Rego, who made the arrests with another detective within five days of the incident. He's not giving up anything else (his arrest report cites anonymous sources and confidential informants) but he does admit that word spread among local teens like wildfire, probably within hours. All three kids confessed.
The juvenile system doesn't release information about underage offenders, but sixteen-year-old Christian Muñoz "seems like a pretty good kid who got caught up in something crazy," says Rego. "Unlike a lot of these kids, he seems to have parents who are around and care about what he does. And he's never come up on my radar before, so I give him a pretty good chance of being okay."
He's cagier about Joseph Muse, whose arrest form doesn't list a phone number, though it does mention a tattoo reading "Joey" on his left hand. A classmate says the fifteen-year-old "bounces around a lot." It's unlikely he'll do much bouncing in the near future: He was picked up on a drug charge this past December, plus Miami-Dade police discovered an outstanding warrant from Lee County, where he apparently assaulted a police officer. He is currently in juvenile detention, awaiting adjudication for the Hammocks incident and a laundry list of other charges.
"We've been aware of him since he was pretty young," Rego says of Muse. "He's really a nice kid in some ways." In fact, the detective says, "When you sit with this kid, he doesn't seem like a bad guy. We know where each other is coming from. To me, sometimes he seems like a normal kid."
While the cops have the vandals cold, they don't have much in the way of a motive. "They're bored, they're stoned, they see an HBO special on the Latin Kings and they want to prove themselves ... whatever," says Rego.
"There isn't necessarily an explanation," he adds. "Some of these kids go out and commit crimes and come home and eat PB&J sandwiches."
Motive for the parking-lot attack notwithstanding, Adrian Garcia should have let someone younger stand lookout for Muse and Muñoz; he's being charged as an adult with two counts of occupied burglary and nine counts of criminal mischief -- all of them felonies. (Although the charge has since been dropped, he was originally also accused of unlawful use of a communications device, the two-way radio. Use of such a device in the commission of a crime is illegal, though such charges are rare. On the record, cops say it's simply a by-the-book charge, though one Miami-Dade officer, speaking anonymously, admitted it might never have appeared on the arrest report if the vandal's target hadn't been the police.)
The range of possible sentences for the crimes is vast. "He's looking at anything from house arrest to possibly 36 years," says Ed Griffith, spokesman for the State Attorney's Office. Garcia just turned eighteen, and any crimes he may have committed in the past would be part of a sealed juvenile record. In the eyes of the court, this is the first trouble Garcia has been in; consequently he's unlikely to serve anything close to 36 years in prison. But Griffith says house arrest won't satisfy his office. "We're looking for jail time," he says.
Garcia's trial will begin in March.