ISP concludes investigation into shooting at juvenile detention center

Still not clear how teen obtained the gun he fired before being shot and killed by police

An Illinois State Police investigation failed to determine how a 17-year-old obtained the handgun he fired inside the Sangamon County Juvenile Detention Center and carried as he tried to escape the facility with a hostage Sept. 30 before being shot by police.

Camren Marcelis Darden, 17, was hit by several rounds fired from a semi-automatic rifle by veteran Springfield police officer Brian Riebeling a few minutes before 8 p.m. Sept. 30. Darden was transported to HSHS St. John’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead about two hours later.

click to enlarge ISP concludes investigation into shooting at juvenile detention center
The Sangamon County Juvenile Detention Center on South Dirksen Parkway in Springfield hasn’t accepted admissions of juveniles since an “active shooter” incident there on Sept. 30 that ended with the death of 17-year-old Camren Darden, a detainee at the center.

"The investigation did not conclusively determine how the gun got into the detention center and into the hands of the juvenile,” Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Milhiser said in a statement to Illinois Times.

“There is no evidence in the investigation to support a finding that the juvenile had an accomplice or was otherwise assisted in obtaining the gun,” he said. “My review of the investigation did determine that there is no evidence to support criminal charges against anyone relating to this incident.”

Milhiser’s statement to Illinois Times came after ISP officials confirmed to the newspaper that they had completed their probe and turned the results over to Milhiser.

It’s possible that authorities may never learn how Darden obtained the gun, Circuit Judge Ryan Cadagin said.

“This was a tragedy that everyone is working hard to prevent from ever happening again,” he said.

The weapon – a Turkish-made Girsan 9 mm pistol 6 to 7 inches long and weighing 1.5 to two pounds – can be seen on the ground at the entrance to the detention center along South Dirksen Parkway in narrated video footage released by Springfield police on Dec. 6.

Darden, a Springfield resident, died from wounds caused by “fewer than a half-dozen rounds,” according to Sangamon County Coroner Jim Allmon.

The ISP’s written findings, numbering several hundred pages, weren’t immediately available to Illinois Times, but the newspaper has filed a Freedom of Information request with the agency to obtain a report.

When asked whether Darden might have had the handgun with him when Springfield police brought him to the county-operated center for pretrial detention, Milhiser wouldn’t comment on that possibility or other potential scenarios that would have overcome the center’s security measures.

Springfield Police Chief Kenneth Scarlette said Darden was “patted down” to check for weapons when he was arrested, put in a squad car and brought to the police station for questioning before he was brought to the detention center on Sept. 11.

Darden was detained for several hours and under video surveillance while at the station, but police who reviewed the footage found nothing amiss, Scarlette said.

The chief wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Darden smuggling a gun into the center when he was admitted there. Scarlette said the incident has underscored the importance of thorough body checks.

The chief said body-cavity searches of people who are arrested are uncommon without a court warrant.

Scarlette said the detention center would benefit from a “more robust way of screening.”

He said he wasn’t surprised that state police were unable to determine how Darden got ahold of the gun.

“You’re essentially looking at a needle in a haystack,” Scarlette said. He added, “There are any number of ways it could have gotten into the facility.” He declined to speculate on those ways.

Cadagin, the 7th Judicial Circuit’s presiding judge for Sangamon County, said it’s his goal to reopen the detention center “as soon as it’s safe to open.” He wouldn’t estimate a timeline for reopening.

Circuit Judge Christopher Reif, the Jacksonville-based chief judge for the six-county 7th Circuit, said, “Our No. 1 priority is the safety of the juveniles and the staff.”

The detention center is owned and operated by Sangamon County government and supervised by the 7th Circuit judges. It has been closed since the incident to allow for the ISP investigation.

Before the center opens, however, Kent Holsopple, director of Sangamon County court services, told Illinois Times on March 18 that “several facility policies and operational changes will be put in place to address all possible safety concerns.”

“Additional security measures will be put into place in the facility, including the use of a body scanner to better detect any potential contraband when youth are brought into the facility and new/upgraded cameras in and around the facility,” Holsopple said in a statement.

The center currently uses metal detectors of various types. It appears the body scanner would go beyond what is currently available and would be similar to the scanner inmates go through when they are booked into the Sangamon County Jail.

The projected cost for Sangamon County government to upgrade security at the center was unavailable.

Holsopple said “sufficient staffing for the facility also remains a top priority in reopening planning.”

The facility has 22 staff positions that are part of its $2.7 million annual budget, but the center has been less than 50% staffed while admissions have been suspended, he said.

The Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, through the Illinois Supreme Court’s budget, reimburses counties for the salaries of approved detention center staff members.

Milhiser said the ISP investigation included interviews with more than 50 people and a review of more than 2,000 hours of video from the detention center and footage from police body cameras.

The probe focused at first on the use of force by Springfield police. Milhiser said he agreed with his predecessor, now Associate Circuit Judge Dan Wright, that Riebeling “was justified in the use of deadly force.”

Wright decided that criminal charges weren’t warranted against Riebeling. Milhiser has said Riebeling won't face any criminal charges in the case, and neither will Chance Taylor, who was an officer-in-training at the time and accompanied Riebeling when they responded to the detention center's 911 call. Scarlette said neither man will face internal disciplinary action, either.

Police said Darden fired shots from the handgun at other detainees and staff members inside the facility before trying to leave with a 16-year-old female as a hostage before being shot by Riebeling. The female was a detainee, as well, Scarlette said.

No one was hit by the bullets fired by Darden.

Springfield resident Camille Darden, 34, Camren Darden’s mother, said police overreacted in their handling of the incident. She said Riebeling should be disciplined or criminally charged.

“They didn’t have to shoot him and kill him,” she said.

Darden, a server at a restaurant and a single mother with three surviving children, all younger than Camren, said law enforcement personnel should have made sure her son didn’t have access to firearms inside the detention center.

She said she hadn’t voiced her dissatisfaction to police or the state’s attorney because she was too upset.

Camille Darden said her son was being held at the center after being charged in juvenile court with possession of stolen property.

Camren previously was incarcerated for six months at an Illinois youth center,
Camille Darden said. She said she didn’t know what crime or crimes led to that incarceration but said her son had been arrested in the past for stealing a car and for driving stolen vehicles.

Milhiser wouldn't confirm details of Camren Darden's criminal history, citing confidentiality rules associated with juvenile cases.

Camille Darden said Camren was a quiet person who attended Springfield High School but didn’t graduate because of his involvement with the criminal justice system.

click to enlarge ISP concludes investigation into shooting at juvenile detention center
Screen grab from Springfield police video
This Girsan 9 mm pistol is the handgun that Springfield Police Department officials said 17-year-old Camren Darden was carrying when he tried to exit the Sangamon County Juvenile Detention Center on Sept. 30, 2023. He was shot multiple times by a Springfield police officer and died from his wounds two hours later at HSHS St. John's Hospital.

Scarlette narrated the police video of the incident that was released in December and said at its conclusion: “Law enforcement is a dangerous profession that often requires split-second decision-making. It is this decision-making that can oftentimes be the difference maker as it pertains to active shooting incidents.

“I commend the professionalism of all responding officers, and I’m grateful this terrible incident was brought to a swift resolution. While the death is tragic, the instantaneous, organized response, which was carried out exactly how the officers were trained, clearly prevented additional loss of life.”

Scarlette said the temporary closure, combined with capacity issues at the more than a dozen county-operated juvenile detention centers throughout the state, has resulted in six Sangamon County juveniles being released to family members rather than being detained even though they met criteria for detainment.

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
[email protected], 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

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