Groton juvenile graduates to adult court in Rhode Island

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A Groton teen charged with holding up a convenience store and nail salon in Rhode Island within two weeks of walking away from an unlocked juvenile facility in Connecticut has been indicted by a grand jury and will be tried as an adult in the Ocean State.

The Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General reported Monday that a statewide grand jury returned an indictment charging Zachary Sostak, 17, with first-degree robbery, conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery, using a firearm while committing a crime of violence and carrying a pistol without a license.

The indictment charges Sostak with robbing the RI Nail & Spa Salon in West Warwick on April 27, 2018. He is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 22 in Kent County Superior Court.

Sostak and four others were arrested in connection with the nail salon robbery and the robbery of a Hopkinton convenience store. Two of the four were adults, identified as 29-year-old Jeffrey Wheeler of East Lyme and 18-year-old Benjamin Ibbitson of New London.

The Providence Journal reported that the five people were taken into custody in Hopkinton following a car chase, and police said they found a 9mm handgun and several bags of crack cocaine in the car.

Two weeks before the alleged crimes, Sostak, who was 16 at the time, had been the last juvenile transferred out of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, which closed amid a series of reforms to the juvenile justice system that were enacted during the tenure of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The facility was considered costly, outdated and not in keeping with the trend toward rehabilitating juvenile offenders in less restrictive settings.

Sostak had been involved with Connecticut's juvenile court system since 2013 for a variety of offenses, including drug violations, and had been committed to the training school for a year.

He was transferred out of the CJTS to a less secure facility in East Windsor and walked away a day later. He was missing for a week before returning home briefly, and then going back to the streets, according to his mother, Marjorie Sostak.

She said her son suffers from a number of conditions, including attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, reactive attachment disorder and extreme anxiety. She said he had been doing well at the training school and that state authorities failed him when they closed the school without a suitable replacement.

Losing the protection of the juvenile system, which enables youths to keep their offenses confidential and receive a wider array of services, is the exact opposite outcome of what Connecticut lawmakers and child advocates say they intended as they worked to reform the juvenile service.

"It's another example of the failure of the system," said Francis J. Carino, the supervisory juvenile prosecutor for Connecticut. He said the reforms apply to all juvenile offenders, but about 5 to 10 percent require a secure facility.

At each of the state's two juvenile detention centers, located in Bridgeport and Hartford, a unit of twelve beds has been set aside for juveniles whose cases are resolved to receive treatment under a program called Re-entry, Goal Oriented, Opportunity to Nurture Success (REGIONS).

Carino said that's not enough capacity, and that eight juveniles who have been ordered into the REGIONS program still are being held in pretrial units without receiving the benefits of the program.

k.florin@theday.com

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