Federal, state laws require special handling of teen inmate

Steve Nash steve.nash@brownwoodbulletin.com
Antonio Vega

At age 15 years and 10 months, Big G Grocery armed robbery suspect Antonio Vega became the Brown County Jail’s youngest inmate Friday after being certified to stand trial as an adult.

County officials are already trying to find another facility that’s better equipped to handle someone as young as Vega, jail administrator Capt. Becky Caffey said. In the meantime, jailers are complying with state and federal laws that make handling an inmate Vega’s age far different from the way they handle an adult inmate.

Jailers are required to house Vega in a segregation cell, and he is never allowed to be around “general population” inmates, Caffey said.

“He’s got his own officer,” Caffey said, referring to a federal law that requires someone Vega’s age to be assigned a jailer who deals only with him. That jailer can’t have responsibility for any other inmates, Caffey said.

“Whatever staff deals with him, can only specifically deal with him,” Caffey said. “We have someone constantly watching him.” 

The jail was short five jailers before Vega entered the facility, and assigning a jailer to deal only with Vega effectively creates a shortage of six officers, Caffey said. “It’s a hardship on the county,” Caffey said.

Early police drove Vega to the jail Friday after Brown County Judge Ray West certified Vega, during a juvenile court hearing, to stand trial as an adult. Bond is set for $100,000 for Vega, who is one of three Elgin residents charged in the Big G robbery. The other two suspects, Jackie Scott, 20, and Cody Williams, 19, are in custody in Bastrop County, where there are cases pending, Early police said.

While Vega is the Brown County jail’s youngest current inmate, he isn’t the youngest inmate to ever be held at the jail. In 2010, the jail held another 15-year-old who was a suspect in a bank robbery. That teen, who was from Arlington, was 15 years, 4 months when he was certified to stand trial as an adult and taken to the jail, according to jail records.

The teen was held for six months before being no-billed by a grand jury, jail records state.

While the teen was required to be held in a segregated cell, federal regulations had not taken effect at that time that required the teen to be assigned an exclusive jailer, Caffey said.