Mystery envelops the unprecedented actions of two 14-year-olds caught allegedly having sex inside a Merced Mall store. With the anonymity afforded teenagers in the juvenile justice system, little may be known what motivated them in their actions or what consequences they ultimately may face.
Police, probation officers and a psychologist say they have never heard of an incident where teens were openly having sex inside a store. The teens were arrested by Merced police Saturday after the 5:23 p.m. incident inside Mervyns in the Merced Mall on West Olive Avenue.
Chris Bobbitt, Merced County's new assistant chief probation officer, said she doesn't know any of the details of Saturday's incident and couldn't comment on specifics. Typically when arrested teens are released to their parents, several options are possible.
Once the Merced Police Department forwards its report to the probation department, a probation officer will review it and determine if the case will be submitted to the District Attorney's Office for prosecution or if a lower level of intervention is warranted, Bobbitt explained.
Dr. Karen Carlquist-Hernandez of Merced, a psychologist who regularly counsels adolescents, said she is confounded by the teens' actions. She guesses their deeds could be a cry for help, peer pressure, part of gang initiation rites, a dare or manifestations of early pubescence.
Sgt. Don King of the Merced Police Department said the teens, one from Merced and the other from Ballico, moved from the store's home furnishings to the luggage department before officers Albert Diaz and Krista Stokes intervened. The students attend Ballico Junior High School.
Angry customers and store security officers called police dispatchers but no one tried to stop the teens before officers arrived. The teens were charged with unlawful sexual intercourse, indecent exposure and oral copulation, King said.
The teens may have thought they couldn't be seen. Their actions were seen by customers and captured on store surveillance video which will not be released to the public, King said.
Roy Berces of Hayward, Mervyns group manager of communications, called the teens' actions a "regrettable incident." He said the case remains under investigation and store personnel took the appropriate steps. Security officers notified police as soon as they became aware of the incident. A local Mervyns manager declined comment and referred questions to Berces.
Lt. Andre Matthews said this is the strangest thing he has ever seen and hopes it's not a trend. Cmdr. Floyd Higdon echoes those thoughts, saying officers encounter lovers in vehicles or in parks, but not in blatant public exhibitions. Sgt. Scott Skinner said the teens' arrest is the talk of the town.
Bobbitt said she is a "little surprised" by such an incident but said any comments at this point would be pure speculation until the incident is thoroughly investigated. Much depends whether the teens have been in the juvenile justice system before.
If the matter isn't sent to juvenile court for formal hearings, the teens could be placed on informal supervised probation and be required to undergo counseling and/or perform community service. A contract could be developed between the probation department, the youths and their parents, Bobbitt said.
Merced police Detective Keith Pelowski, who handles sex-related cases, believes Saturday's arrests have to be an isolated-type incident.
"I don't know what's with kids these days, not in the middle of a store like that," Pelowski said.
Sgt. Jay Struble, of the Merced Police Department, said it's not that uncommon for officers to encounter sexual acts in parks at night, in vehicles or in secluded areas.
"Kids' open sexual relations, that's a first that I know of," Struble said. "When you think you've seen it all, they throw another wrench at you."
Carlquist-Hernandez, the psychologist, suspects only about 15 percent of 14-year-olds are sexually active but wonders if the teens wanted to get caught. She said there is a "huge amount of disrespect" from the younger generation and adults are letting them get away with it and don't demand respect.
"This is so blatantly out in the open, so 'in your face.' It's springtime but this is pushing it for 14-year-olds," Carlquist-Hernandez said.
Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.