Erie County DA rips criminal law reforms after McKinley High violence

Betty Q. Hixson

Flynn says he’ll prosecute the stabbing to the fullest extent. But he has other concerns and is looking for review and possible tweaks in the Raise the Age law.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — In the wake of the arrest of a 17-year-old suspect in connection with the knife attack on another 14-year-old student at McKinley High School, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn is raising questions about the impact of certain recent reform laws on the state’s criminal justice system, and especially youth violence. 

At the East Ferry Detention Center in Buffalo, the unnamed 17-year-old McKinley High School student is now being held with his arrest in connection with the stabbing of the 14-year-old student, who was wounded 10 times.  

Frustrated with the rate of very violent crime and very young suspects, Flynn agrees with contributing factors of pent-up COVID pandemic anger and availability of weapons.

But he says, “I would add to that list, Raising the Age.” 

That law, taking effect in 2018 under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, officially raised the age of criminal responsibility to age 18 and created a sub-category of adolescent offenders for 16 to 17-year-olds charged with a felony level crime.

It also further protected other young suspects charged with lesser crimes to make sure they were isolated from more dangerous older inmates who could prey on them.

Flynn says he’ll prosecute this stabbing case to the full extent in the Youth Court division. But he has other concerns and is looking for review and possible tweaks in the law.

He stressed: “It is no coincidence that we have seen a spike in violence, a spike in particularly gun violence, in the past two years, when the numerous criminal justice reforms were passed and came into effect.”

Flynn went on to say: “The 15, 16, 17-year-old, who is shooting up our streets, who is getting caught with guns, who is committing assault and other violent crimes, my love now is going to turn to tough love.

“We to have some accountability here. We need to have some discipline here, and if my dear friends in Albany aren’t going to dish out more discipline, well, that’s why you have me as your district attorney. I guess I’ll do it.”

We asked area state lawmakers for their response. 

Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes told 2 On Your Side that “what Raise the Act says is that if you commit a crime, you will be prosecuted.

“It does not say if you commit a crime and you’re 16, you’re not going to be prosecuted because you’re 16. That is not what it says at all, and I’m a little concerned that people will feel like that is what this is, because it’s not.”

Peoples-Stokes also said New York was one of three states that previously had a much younger age level for criminal prosecution before the law was changed, and that slower brain development in teens may not allow them to fully understand their erratic behavior and consequences.    

We also spoke with Assemblymember Monica Wallace and pointed out that again the district attorney had specifically mentioned the Raise the Age Act in his comments.

She replied: “He also said that there were things like the pandemic causing it and increasing gun violence, which we absolutely need to talk about the increase in gun violence. That’s a problem as well. But he didn’t say Raise the Age is preventing me from holding this individual accountable.”

Finally, Republican Senator Edward Rath III told us, “Raise the Age legislation, I think, needs to be reviewed when it comes to violent crimes, violent acts. We should consider doing some deep dive on that, and potentially reforming it, to include adolescent offenders.”

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