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Oak Bluffs Teenager Won't Do Time for Stealing Cash

Telling police he needed money for food and clothing after his parents died, a member of the MVRHS varsity basketball team admitted taking cash left in an unlocked home. Deshawn James, 18, was placed on probation until 2015.

An 18-year-old Oak Bluffs man charged with unarmed burglary, entering a building in the night time and larceny will not go to jail after admitting to sufficient facts in the case, according to court documents.

Instead, Deshawn James, who plays on the varsity basketball team at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, will be on probation for two years, perform 30 hours of community service and make restitution to his victims.

In December, James admitted to police that he had taken cash on multiple occasions from an unlocked home on Grovedale Avenue in Oak Bluffs.

According to the written report of Oak Bluffs Police Sgt. Michael Marchand, police were called to the home Dec. 5 to investigate “three separate incidents when different stashes of money were taken” from inside the house occupied by homeowners Kate Shanor and Bob Stafford and tenant Courtney Jew.

In late October, the residents told Marchand, after $750 in cash was left on a kitchen counter overnight only $20 remained in the morning. A month or so later another $500 was taken from a bedroom, the occupants reported.

In all, Marchand wrote, the residents estimated about $2,000 was taken from the home.

In December, his report continues, Shanor purchased a Web surveillance camera online for $100 and set it up Dec. 5 before the residents went to work.

She called police after the resulting video showed a young black man entering the home at around 3 p.m. According to Marchand's report, although officers did not recognize the person in the video:

“I showed a copy of the video footage to a couple MVRHS students. Both students identified the male as Deshawn. Neither knew his last name. They both knew that Deshawn played basketball on the boys varsity team."

Marchand and another officer drove to the high school at the end of basketball practice and asked coach Mike Joyce if they could speak with Deshawn, who agreed to talk and accompanied them to the police station for questioning, Marchand wrote:

"James agreed to speak with us aout his involvement in the breaks and freely waived his rghts. He also requested that the interview be recorded."

In the interview, Marchand reports:

James admitted to first entering the house just before Thanksgiving around midnight. He walked in the side door that was unlocked and entered the kitchen. He observed a pile of cash on the kitchen counter and immediately left the house. James said the total was between $700 and $800.

James said he took the money to buy food for himself. James explained that his father passed away a few years ago and his mother died of cancer last year; He is living on Martha’s Vineyard with his older brother who is a part time painter. James said he has to support himself and buy his own food and  clothing.

As the interview continued, James told police he had entered the house twice more, once leaving empty-handed and once that same day when he was recorded by the surveillance cam.

James said he entered the house through an unlocked door and walked up to the second floor bedroom. He located $200 in the top bureau drawer, and he found $39 on the top of the bureau in a case. James said after he found the cash he left the house.

James was very cooperative and apologetic during questioning. He seemed genuinely remorseful for his actions. James completed a witness statement form, describing each time he entered the house looking for money.

Due to the fact that James was cooperative, I chose not to arrest him. James and I discussed him seeking help from the food pantry, the church, school guidance and the state for a possible EBT card to purchase necessities.

James told me he still had $239 that he had stolen today from Grovedale Road. I counted the money and placed it in an evidence bag and placed the money in the blue evidence lockers.

On 12/7/12, using investigative tools, the police department observed a photo of James on his Facebook page. The photo was posted on the internet on October 23, 2012. The photo is of James holding what appears to be several hundred dollars, fanning the bills in a flashy manner with his middle finger raised.

Due to the fact that James is unemployed, the fact that James said he needed to steal money to buy food, the timing of the post, the time of the burglary, it is likely the money being flashed is the money that was stolen.

At that time, Marchand wrote, a criminal application was completed charging James with unarmed burglary, breaking and entering and larceny. A charge of entering a building in the night time for a felony — which could bring  10-year prison sentence — was subsequently reduced to misdemeanor trespassing, according to court documents.

Several of James's teachers in the alternative program at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School interceded for the teenager, writing letters to the court that described him as a promising young man who had made a mistake on his road to self-sufficiency.

“I believe what he did was in desperation," wrote school nurse Linda Leonard. ”It is my belief that this child has not had the support and are that my own children have had in their lives. He made a bad mistake which it is my belief he sincerely regrets.”

Social worker Allison Ritts wrote,

I knew Deshawn came from a difficult childhood wrought with hardship and devoid of consistent upervision and nurturance, but I did not have a comlete sense of the severity of the sruggle Deshawn was facing.

It was not until I heard of the charges filed against him that I realized the full extent of Deshawn’s desperation and need. I did not realize that Deshawn was left on his own to feed and support himself when he moved to Martha’s Vineyard. As a full time student, this was not possible.

He was stranded, alone, hopeless, and hungry.

Ritts told the court that James's "attendance is superb and he has no disciplinary record,” and that "he has been referred for services at the Vineyard Health Care Access Program and at Island Counseling Center at Martha's Vineyard Community Services to access food stamps, health insurance, and counseling.

"Deshawn is also working to earn money to repay the money he took from the residence," Ritts wrote.

For more police and court news, please see our Police & Fire section, available in the News tab above or by clicking here.

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Louisa Hufstader (Editor) February 27, 2013 at 02:42 PM
I'm curious about your reasoning: If he's not a "child," why do you automatically call him a "kid"?
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) February 27, 2013 at 03:01 PM
Given that science shows the human brain does not fully develop until age 25, I'd say he still has quite a bit of growing up to do. As to where he came from before MV: I'm guessing a place where people don't leave piles of cash on view in their unlocked homes unless they are prepared to lose it. Some would call that the real world.
Michael West February 27, 2013 at 03:33 PM
People make mistakes, especially when they are young. Imagine the difficulty of being essentially alone and rootless in this world at 18. I think we all would have a better world to live in if those who make mistakes are given an opportunity to learn from it through community resources, rather than be exiled to learn from those who have chosen a criminal path. *** On another topic. Mr. "John McLane" -- Is that his real name or a role Bruce Willis has played? Or a well-known senator? -- mentions accountability ("We really need more people to be seriously held accountable..."). To Patch: What is your policy about those who may be hiding behind pseudonyms while posting inflammatory remarks? I would recommend that Patch consider improving the quality of its content by requiring verifiable credentials for all who would post comments. I'm not sure how you would do that, practically, but I have grown tired of phony names and their vitriol.
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) February 27, 2013 at 04:03 PM
Michael, you and Holly have both brought this up recently and I agree. If people aren't willing to back their statements with their names, they're obviously avoiding accountability. We're not the only ones who think so: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has stated that anonymity "facilitates wrong by eliminating accountability." Patch does not encourage, but also does not ban fake names and each local editor is allowed discretion in moderating comments. My current policy is to ignore the obviously fake names completely — I do not respond or acknowledge them — and to pull their comments off the thread if they are off topic, attack-oriented and/or seem to be trying to introduce "facts" that can't be verified. (If someone wants to come on with a phony name and say something positive and friendly in a comment thread, I'm probably going to leave it alone.) This was not a name I recognized, so I gave the commenter the benefit of the doubt and responded. We really can't control how people identify themselves online. But we can and I encourage you to continue to question all comments. Including mine. The only other thing we can do is to continue accepting accountability ourselves. Thank you!
cheryl nezny February 27, 2013 at 04:15 PM
This is just another example of what is to be celebrated and treasured here on Martha's Vineyard. Deshawn is blessed to live in such a loving, caring community. His life (and all those he touches in the future) has been instantly changed for the better. This truly is a magical island...
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) February 27, 2013 at 06:46 PM
P.S. There is one other thing we can do that I forgot to mention: Click the "flag as inappropriate" button on an objectionable comment. If enough people flag a comment, it is pulled from the site and sent to the editor for review.
Jeanne Gravley February 27, 2013 at 07:39 PM
I don't think it's right that he posted such a defiant photo on Facebook, but after he repays his debt and does his community service, he should be given one more chance. If he blows that, then he should have to face more dire consequences.
Simma February 27, 2013 at 07:47 PM
We should be giving Dorian, who is accused of smoking pot, the same second chance. Hypocrisy.
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) February 28, 2013 at 02:31 AM
It's a startling contrast. As a new/returning resident, I am concerned.
cderrig February 28, 2013 at 06:50 AM
Total bologna. At 18, I was paying for myself to go to college. Entirely on my own. $28,900 a year and I paid for every dime of it. I have had a job since I was 11. My father died when I was 16. No excuse. I am friends with Kate and Bob - they are wonderful people. This kid is beyond lucky. I think the Vineyard is, in general, too lenient a place. Where else do people live with their parents so much ?!?!! And let them pay their bills.?!?!! Yeah, this doesn't happen anywhere else. It shouldn't !!!!!!!! Gimme a break. You're not helping him. Who cares if he plays basketball ?!?! Of course he "feels bad". He got caught.
Ken Esq February 28, 2013 at 11:52 AM
cderrig, Young adults are living with their parents in a lot of places nowadays the unemployment rate for ages 16 - 19 is close to 30%. There are few jobs paying the close to $35,000+ (pre tax) a year you must have been making at that age to afford to pay for college.It's great that you did it, but that's not even close to the norm. I don't know this young man, it sounds like he's had some pretty bad times losing both parents, but in this instance he's been granted a second chance. Hopefully, he can make the best of it repay the money he stole and turn his life into something productive and good.
Anonymous! February 28, 2013 at 04:11 PM
LIberalism has nothing to do with a person's commentary on having compassion for another human being. If you call that liberalism, I'll take it...proudly. I do believe he should be held accountable and taught the correct way to conduct himself. People seem to differ on how he should be held accountable and then taught the correct way to behave so that he is not a wasted life.
Paul French February 28, 2013 at 05:10 PM
IF he has the proper documents I would recommend that he sign up for the Marine Corps if he really is really sorry, wants to square his life away and contribute to his country and at the same time would drive all the island liberals crazy! The only problem there would be he would have to serve under this Pres but I have a feeling it wont be for much longer.
Michael West March 01, 2013 at 07:40 PM
I totally agree, and I regret the MVRHS principal chose to lean so hard on this. It is unrealistic to think kids wont experiment, especially with decriminalized substances, and it is equally unrealistic to think kids can entirely ignore peer pressure. The suspension is in my view draconian and inappropriate despite the ard line taken in the code of conduct. Does the principal think this will discourage other kids? Think again. People make mistakes, especially kids but even principals. I've lived long enough to know.

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