Felony record for runaway who flew off

TACOMA — A boy who ran away at age 9 and talked his way onto airplane flights to Texas has blown too many chances to clean up his act and must live with a felony record for a prior car theft, a judge has decided.

Since his headline-making escapade in January 2007, Semaj Booker, now 11, has attempted to repeat his airline runaway act, broken curfew, lied to police, burglarized an apartment and destroyed a mattress in juvenile detention, Pierce County deputy prosecutor Fred Wist said Thursday.

The boy seemed to feed off the attention from his initial escapade, the exasperated prosecutor told Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson on Thursday.

“Mr. Booker has never been held accountable for his actions,” Wist said. “The time has come, your honor, for this court to say enough is enough.”

Cuthbertson agreed, revoking a deferred disposition of the boy’s conviction for stealing a neighbor’s car and leading authorities on a high-speed chase on Highway 512, crimes he committed a day before he slipped out of his home again, made it onto two flights and got as far as San Antonio in an attempt to visit his grandfather in Dallas.

The boy also was ordered to pay $100 to a crime-victim compensation fund, make $3,000 in restitution to the car owner whose Acura he totaled, and perform four hours of community service.

Wist said the boy won’t face more time in detention, but for the rest of his life will be obligated to reveal the conviction to potential employers unless he later persuades a judge to seal his juvenile record.

“I know this is difficult for you to understand at 11 years old,” Cuthbertson said as Semaj stood quietly. “Whether or not you have a criminal record makes a big difference in whether or not you can get a good job and help your family and have the things you want.”

Arguing that Booker is a “product of the dysfunction” in his family, defense lawyer Brett Purtzer asked in vain that the judge put off a decision for three months pending civil proceedings on whether the boy and three siblings should be returned to the custody of their mother.

The children have been placed in foster care at Cuthbertson’s request pending a dependency hearing next month.

Semaj had been granted deferred disposition of his case on condition that he stay out of trouble for a year. Instead, he tried again to get on a flight to Texas and got to a departure gate at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport before being stopped.

A litany of petty offenses followed. In October he admitted lying to police about an apartment break-in three months earlier and was sentenced to the 26 days in detention he had served.

“It’s time for you to step up and stop all the drama and stop all the nonsense and stop making these bad decisions and be a person who’s going to help your family and is going to help our community,” Cuthbertson said. “For some reason, I still believe you can do it.”

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