A Conway teen who was charged as an adult after allegedly tasing a 1-year-old child last year is now charged with a misdemeanor in juvenile court after the Court of Appeals overturned a co-defendant’s delinquency adjudication from juvenile court.
Makayla Denise Brewster, now 18, was 17 years old when she was charged as an adult in July 2018 with one count of endangering the welfare of a minor, a Class D felony. Brewster was charged as an adult and two other teens were charged in juvenile court after Snap Chat videos that showed Brewster taunting the child in question with a taser went viral.
Following a May 29 Arkansas Court of Appeals ruling, local prosecutors were forced to amend the charges against Brewster and move the case to juvenile court.
“The Court of Appeals decision tied our hands in how we can legally proceed against Makayla Brewster,” 20th Judicial Prosecutor Carol Crews told the Log Cabin Democrat on Thursday. “We are bound by the decision.”
After one of Brewster’s co-defendant’s appealed her juvenile delinquency adjudication to the Arkansas Court of Appeals, Judge Phillip T. Whiteaker ruled in her favor on May 29 and also found that Brewster could not face the felony charge that was filed against her either.
The charges against the teens followed an investigation that began when Conway police were called to the Conway Regional Medical Center on July 9, 2018, after the then-1-year-old’s mother informed authorities she’d learned of the videos circulating Snap Chat and was having her child assessed.
Alysia Watkins had asked Brewster, who is the appealing juvenile’s sister, to babysit her young daughter at her home. However, despite the original plan, the child’s mother agreed to allow Brewster to watch the infant at her home.
According to court documents, Brewster was “in charge of the child” and the now-18-year-old’s sister was also at the home with a friend.
“While Makayla was supervising [the child], [her sister’s friend] posted a video to her Snapchat account depicting two scenes,” court documents state. “In the first scene, [Brewster’s sister] is activating a taser or stun-gun device near [the baby] while the baby is lying on a bed. Although the video never actually shows the device touching the baby, the audio portion reflects that [the infant] is crying.”
According to court documents, Brewster “is not seen in this scene until the very end when she approaches [the child] who is still lying on the bed.”
The second video shows Brewster slapping the child on the head. Brewster’s sister was not seen in the second video. While the defendant’s sister is not depicted in the second video, the girl’s friend can be overheard “laughing and saying, ‘do it again.’”
In her appeal, Brewster’s sister said she was not liable as an accomplice because the issue as to “whether, under the language of the controlling criminal statutes, [she] could be liable as an accomplice when she was not within the class of persons who could commit the underlying offense of endangering the welfare of a minor in the first degree and she was the person who committed the act alleged to have endangered the minor.”
When considering “the meaning and effect” of the statute at hand, Judge Whiteaker determined an individual is at fault of first-degree endangering the welfare of a minor if they are “a parent, guardian, person legally charged with care or custody of a minor or a person charged with supervision of a minor, [and] he or she purposely engages in conduct creating a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to a minor.”
To move forward in this particular case, prosecutors would have to prove Brewster’s sister was in charge of supervising the child and also that she “purposefully” engaged in activities that would injure the child.
In his ruling, Whiteaker said that because the infant’s mother said that only Brewster was in charge of watching after her child, Brewster’s younger sister could not be charged with endangering the welfare of a minor in this case.
However, the state had moved forward with charging Brewster’s sister as an accomplice.
“In this case, the State alleged — and the [Faulkner County court] found — that the act of aspiring a stun gun at the baby was conduct that created a substantial risk of death or serious injury to a minor,” Whiteaker’s ruling reads. “On the record before us, [Brewster’s sister] was the person engaged in that conduct, but as discussed above, she is not in the class of persons who can commit the offense of first-degree endangerment.”
As the ruling reads, Brewster fits the class description of who could commit the crime at hand. However, she “did not engage in the act of sparking a stun gun at [the child]. In other words, on the record before us, Makayla did not engage in conduct creating a substantial risk of death or serious injury to minor as it relates to the use of a stun gun.”
Because the now-18-year-old did not trigger the stun gun, she cannot be at fault of the child endangerment charge, Whiteaker said, adding that her sister “cannot be an accomplice to an offense that was never committed by another person.”
During a hearing before Circuit Judge Troy B. Braswell on Wednesday, local prosecutors moved to have Brewster’s case switched over to juvenile court. Instead of a felony, child endangerment charge, she now faces a misdemeanor, second-degree assault charge.
Deputy prosecutor Ben Fruehauf said the change was a direct reflection of the Court of Appeals’ ruling.
“The co-defendant[’s] juvenile case was appealed to the Court of Appeals while this case was pending. In that decision, the court also found that Makayla Brewster could not be found guilty of felony endangering the welfare of a minor on a theory of accomplice liability,” he said in open court Wednesday. “Based on that, the state moves to amend the endangering the welfare of a minor to assault second.”
Because the amended charge is on a misdemeanor level and does not fit the requirements of filing one who was a juvenile at the time they allegedly committed a high-level crime, “the state stipulates to a transfer to juvenile court,” Fruehauf said.
The charge filed against Brewster was ultimately amended and her case was also transferred to juvenile court Wednesday.