The 14-year-old Mattapan youth charged with fatally shooting his brother last week had such a history of violence that his mother repeatedly called police for help in controlling him and state officials had tried to take custody of the teen.
The details emerged Monday as the teen was arraigned in Dorchester District Court in the killing of his 9-year-old brother, Jan Marcos Peña. The teen said he got the gun allegedly used in the shooting for self-protection, according to two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the case.
His behavior prompted officers to come to his house in Mattapan at least three times over the last year, according to police reports. In one instance, his mother said he slapped his little brother in the face and knocked him to the ground.
The teen has been arrested three times for assault, and in May was sent to a residential program designed to help troubled boys, according to police reports. He ran away from the Norwood facility the same day he arrived.
Social workers from the state Department of Children and Families repeatedly visited the teen at his home, said Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz, and tried to gain custody of him but were denied by a judge.
The agency worked with the teen for the past two years, trying to help the mother manage his behavior.
“The department did all the right things in this, and we just have an incredibly tragic outcome, with guns that we have to get off the street,” Polanowicz said. Officials, citing confidentiality, refused to identify the judge or the court who denied the state custody of the teen.
A social worker continued to visit the house. The last home visit was Jan. 30, about a week before the shooting.
The worker who tried to help the family “is shattered that this happened on his watch, and was almost inconsolable when he found out,” Polanowicz said.
The teen, whose name has not been released because of his age, appeared in sweatpants and a shirt in a juvenile session Monday where he faced charges of involuntary manslaughter and unlawful possession of a firearm. His mother and older sister sat in the courtroom during the closed proceedings. The youth denied the charges in court.
Afterward, the teen’s mother, her face covered in sunglasses and a scarf, left the courtroom, gripping the hand of her son’s lawyer, Michael Doolin, who described his client as “heartbroken” over his brother’s death.
“He’s terrified and he’s very, very sad,” Doolin said. His mother “seems like a real good mom to me. She’s very concerned, obviously going through the grieving process but she was there in court for her son today. . . . It’s something that no parent should have to go through.”
Judge Leslie Harris ordered the teen held on $50,000 cash bail, an amount that Doolin said the family will be unable to pay. The teen will be held at a Department of Youth Services facility.
The shooting occurred around 11:30 a.m. Friday, a school day.
An aunt of the 14-year-old said his mother was outside of the family’s three-decker house on Morton Street, warming up her van when the shooting happened. The mother had been planning to take her older son to an appointment at a school outside the Boston district.
The mother was forced to make the appointment because the 14-year-old had been rejected by the Boston public school system, the aunt said. The aunt declined to give her name.
“They kept turning their heads,” the aunt said of school officials.
The teen is “a very good child and smart,” she added.
Police discovered the 9-year-old, a fourth-grader at the James W. Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, lying on his back in the hallway of the second-floor apartment. They found the teen minutes later on Walk Hill Street, still holding the weapon. They have not said where the firearm came from but have said that the shooting appears to have been accidental.
Brian Ballou, a spokesman for the Boston public school department, declined to comment directly on the aunt’s claims that the district rejected the teenager, but said that generally no student can be kept out of the city’s schools.
“We educate any child in the city of Boston,” Ballou said. “We cannot and do not deny enrollment to any child living in the city and whose family is requesting a seat in our schools for any reason.”
Police began coming to the house on Morton Street last April, when the mother called one night, upset that her son was smoking inside the house.
She “stated that she is having a hard time with her son,” police wrote. “She just wanted officers to speak with him.” The officers told the boy to stop smoking and go to his room, according to the report.
The next month, the teen was sent to the program in Norwood that is aimed at helping struggling adolescents. The state-funded program is supposed to give teens and their families a respite from one another for up to 45 days while therapists try to come up with a longer-range solution for the family’s problems.
But the teen left the program on May 7, the same day he arrived, according to Norwood police, who got a call from program staffers about his disappearance.
Three days later, his mother called Boston police to tell them her son had come home and that she wanted him to stay with her.
Life for the family grew worse after that, according to police reports.
In June, the teen was arrested for hitting his little brother, then shoving his mother, who bit him in self-defense. At 5-feet-10 and 170 pounds, the teen scared his mother, who told police he had threatened her life, according to the report. In August, she reported him missing after he violated his 7 p.m. curfew. Police found him later that night.
On Aug. 28, police went to the house again. This time, the mother said she and her 14-year-old had been arguing. When she raised her hand to slap him, he grabbed her by the thumb and twisted it back. He then pushed her into the wall. Police could see her forehead swelling and a dent in the wall.
In October, he was arrested at the William B. Rogers Middle School in Hyde Park for disorderly conduct after he and another student allegedly tried to pick a fight with another teen, causing such chaos that the school police officer had to call for backup to separate them.
An official familiar with the case said that the 14-year-old later said that “some people were out to get him. He had to watch his back.”
Most recently, the teen had been enrolled at Mildred Avenue Middle School in Mattapan.
Although the boy has been charged as a juvenile, Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, said prosecutors are still weighing whether to charge him as an adult.
Wark said state law allows for suspects under 17 to be indicted as a “youthful offenders,” which can expose them to the same penalties as an adult if they are convicted.
“It’s early in this process and we have not made that decision,” Wark said.
A juvenile convicted of a crime — or found delinquent — is sent to DYS custody, where he or she can be held only until the age of 18. A youthful offender, however, can be committed to DYS until the age of 21, receive an adult sentence, or a combination of both. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 20 years.