Teens who escaped from Westmoreland County Juvenile Detention Center are back in custody, police say

HEMPFIELD TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Two teens who escaped from a juvenile detention center over the weekend are back in custody.

But, a Westmoreland County official said the two weren’t being held in detention because the county’s juvenile detention center isn’t currently open.

“It was an all-hands-on-deck situation over the weekend,” said Trooper Cliff Greenfield of the Pennsylvania State Police

State police say 14-year-old Robert Cogdell, and 16-year-old Braedon Dickinson escaped from the Westmoreland County Juvenile Detention Center Saturday before being arrested over night Sunday into Monday in Fayette County after a foot chase.

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Troopers believe the two stole a nearby truck that had a gun inside.

“Any time a juvenile is in possession of a handgun unlawfully, then that’s a serious concern for us,” Greenfield said.

Police said the two slipped out of an unsecured area of the detention center.

Westmoreland County Controller Jeff Balzer, who is the Chairman of the Board for the Juvenile Detention Center said that’s because that’s where the court ordered them to be.

“They tried to place the kids, they weren’t able to place them, they placed them somewhere where they could actually walk away, and they walked away,” Balzer said.

Westmoreland County’s Juvenile Detention Center is not open. There isn’t enough staff to run it.

It received several violations from the state this summer.

The shelter is still up and running in a different area of the same building -- but serves a different purpose.

“You have kids that have trouble at home, things of that nature,” Balzer said. “They get into arguments with their parents, they don’t have anywhere to go, they can go to the shelter, some kids have legal issues that don’t warrant jailing, but they can be put in a shelter.”

Dickinson is one of seven people charged in the shooting death of Jason Raiford in New Kensington in July 2022. He was initially going to be tried as an adult, but was decertified earlier this year and was set to be tried instead as a juvenile.

A district attorney’s spokeswoman tells Channel 11′s Andrew Havranek that Dickinson was wearing an ankle monitor.

District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli sent Havranek a statement Monday afternoon saying, “Anytime a juvenile is charged with a serious offense, it is my position that they should be held in a secure facility pending disposition. Failure to secure them after serious, violent offenses puts not only public safety at risk but puts law enforcement at undue risk. I have been advocating for the center to be reopened.”

Balzer said he hopes that day comes soon.

“You can’t just hire two people and say ‘ok, we’ll open it and get the other two later,’” he said. “We have to have enough people to staff around the clock.”

Channel 11 reached out to the Westmoreland County Presiding Judge’s office but did not hear back.

State police said this is all still under investigation.

Dickenson is set to have a hearing next week to be re-certified and tried as an adult in the Jason Raiford murder case.

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