FOX16 Investigates: Families say gap in justice system putting lives in danger

Investigates

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Several families say a system designed to protect victims of violent crimes is failing them and jeopardizing their safety. 

VINE is an online database run by the Arkansas Crime Information Center, ACIC. It pulls information from jails and courts across the state so victims and their families can follow their accused attacker. 

In some cases, juveniles who are charged as adults are not being included on VINE. 

That was the case with 16-year-old Eric Hall. Hall who was arrested and charged in the January shooting of two people at an apartment complex off Napa Valley Drive in West Little Rock. Both victims were injured, one critically. 

“These were two people who could have died,” said a source who knows the victims. Their identity is being kept hidden out of concerns for their safety. 

Normally Hall’s name and mugshot would be hidden since state law protects juveniles accused of crimes. In this case, a judge decided Hall should be charged as an adult. Still, Hall’s information never ended up on VINE. 

“We feel like of course, the system has failed,” the source said. “They do something on an adult level and we’re protecting them as a child doesn’t make sense.”

It became a bigger issue in April when Hall’s case was postponed because of COVID-19. At the same time, Hall’s lawyer asked the judge to drop Hall’s bond in part because of the pandemic.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Barry Sims agreed and Hall’s bond went from $750,000 to $150,000. 

About a week later, Hall made bail.

It’s all things the victims and their families could have gotten VINE notifications for, but never did. 

“Pretty much found out via social media or word of mouth,” the source said. 

Days after Hall was released, a picture was posted on his Instagram, captioned the person who “told on me should’ve died.”

That post is now part of court records. Prosecutors used it as evidence in a request to revoke Hall’s bond. In the same request, prosecutors wrote that one of the victims, “received a call from an anonymous number and was told that “they” were sitting outside his mother’s house and if he came to court and testified that “they” would kill his mother and his sister.”

The judge pulled Hall’s bond and put out a warrant for his arrest.

“Whenever you think about someone who tried to take your life and then they’re released, you just don’t have a feeling that they’re not going to try it again or take you out because they’re scared of what may be said in court,” said the source. 

While this person questions why Hall had a chance at a lower bond, they say it’s equally important to know why he didn’t end up on VINE. 

“It seems like the suspect is being protected, his rights and information regarding him and not the family,” they said. 

It’s a question we took to the ACIC and found it this a problem that can come up with juveniles, but when we asked about a solution there wasn’t an answer. 

“We’ll make a notification, we just have to have data,” said Operations Division Manager Rick Stallings.  

Stallings pins this on how juveniles charged as adults are booked into jail, and acknowledged there’s a disconnect.

“A juvenile comes into the system. If they’re labeled as a juvenile regardless of the agency it will not go into the VINE system,” he explained. 

That was the case with Hall.

Stalling says there’s no plan to change the system. 

“You have to be careful with juvenile offenders because they may be charged as an adult but they go before first appearance with a judge they could kick that back to juvenile court. We don’t want to violate a juvenile’s rights either,” Stallings said. 

Instead, Stallings says victims and witnesses shouldn’t rely on VINE and points them to prosecutors to get that information.

“A person should not use VINE as their sole means of notification. They should have a safety plan,” he added. 

Victim advocates call it a cop out. 

“I just think there is a gap somewhere that should be fixed,” said Amy Adams with Parents of Murdered Children. 

Adams says when it comes to the families she works with, she pushes to make sure a juvenile offender charged as an adult is put on VINE. 

”You are victimizing that family by not notifying them,” Adams explained. 

She believes the solution should fall back on the state, and not employees at a prosecutor’s office. 

“Any kind of violent crime you should be put on VINE, so that families will be notified just in case the Victim Witness Coordinator was sick, or they couldn’t get a hold of the victim advocate,” she said. 

Until something changes there will continue to be the risk of families being kept in the dark. 

“I wish that something was done about it as soon as possible,” the anonymous source said.  “You want justice, but it doesn’t seem like that’s taking place.”

Since we started asking questions about Hall, his information has since been posted to VINE. It’s a start, but the source tells us the family wants to see a system-wide change. 

As of Thursday, July 23 Hall has been arrested.

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