When it came to violent crime, Armando Barragan of Milwaukee started young, shooting up a van of rival gang members at age 14 and, eight months later, attacking a police officer, trying to grab his gun, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The crimes landed Barragan in the juvenile justice system, but he got breaks that kept him on the street, where he committed new crimes, according to court and police records.
Barragan quickly rose to become a leader of the Latin Kings and was charged with ordering the execution of a man who tried to stop a fight outside a gas station in 2003 – one of six homicides or attempted homicides he was investigated for by the time he was 18. Miscommunication between federal and state authorities resulted in missing a chance to arrest Barragan in a courtroom before he fled to Mexico and became one of the U.S. Marshals Service’s most wanted fugitives. Court documents show Barragan could have – and probably should have – been behind bars in 2003, after the gas station shooting. He was free because of breaks he received, first from a judge and later from police. The failure to hold Barragan accountable for his crimes is the latest example of how a cagey gang leader beat the criminal justice system. The case shows that a teenager who says and does the right things can avoid punishment in the children’s system, or at least delay it. “He absolutely worked the system to his advantage, but that is the way the system is designed,” said prosecutor Joy Hammond.