Children’s Vulnerability During Police Interrogations: The Story of Michael Crowe

The story of Michael Crowe, a 14-year-old child, exemplifies why children need protections during police interrogations. Michael’s traumatic involvement with the criminal justice system began on the night of January 20, 1998 when someone snuck into Stephanie Crowe’s bedroom and stabbed her to death.[1] Police questioned the entire Crowe family the following day, including Michael, Stephanie’s brother.[2] The police read Michael his Miranda rights before questioning him about the murder.[3] However, Michael waived his Miranda rights and spoke with the detectives without an attorney or parent present.[4]

Detectives ignored the fact that on the night of Stephanie’s murder neighbors called the police several times.[5] Neighbors reported that a man was bothering residents and broke into a home in the Crowe’s neighborhood looking for a girl.[6] Detectives had the wrong suspect, but they nonetheless continued to focus their attention on Michael, interrogating him four times.[7]

In the first interview on January 21, 1998, Michael told police that he awoke with a headache around 4:30 a.m. on the morning after Stephanie was murdered, took Tylenol, and went back to his room.[8] Michael retold the same story when police interviewed him for the second time on January 22nd.[9] During the second interrogation, Michael also spoke about how seeing his sister “soaked in blood” the next morning made him cry.[10] He described her as “the best person” and “kind.” Michael expressed anger towards the killer.[11]

            Later that day, police interviewed Michael for a third time for three hours even though he expressed “that he felt sick” at the beginning.[12] Michael once again repeated what he told police during his first and second interviews and said:

I feel like I just … I spent all day away from my family. I couldn’t see them… I feel like I’m being treated like I killed my sister, and I didn’t. It feels horrible, like I’m being blamed for it … Everything I have is gone. Everything. You won’t even let me see my parents. It’s horrible.[13]

Detectives ignored Michael’s pleas and continued to interrogate him by giving a computer stress voice analyzer test.[14] Detectives told Michael that the test proved he was deceiving them and questioned whether there was something he was “blocking out” in his “subconscious mind.”[15] Michael continued to deny that he murdered his sister even as detectives pressured him about whether he needed to confess something.[16] Detectives began to tell Michael that police “found blood in his room, lifted fingerprints off the blood stains, and that the police” knew he killed Stephanie.[17] As Michael repeatedly denied killing his sister, detectives told him that maybe he simply did not remember killing his sister.[18] An emotional and confused Michael asked the detective “if he was sure” that he had killed his sister. To which the detective responded, “‘I’m sure about the evidence. Absolutely.’”[19]

            Finally, detectives interviewed Michael for a fourth time for over six hours on January 23, 1998.[20] Detectives used various interrogation tactics to make Michael confess.[21] Detectives again told Michael that the police had evidence which proved he murdered Stephanie.[22] The detectives also played a “game” with Michael that forced Michael to explain crime scene evidence, but with a rule that Michael could not say “‘I don’t know.’”[23] Detectives continued to tell Michael that he killed Stephanie and he did not remember and “introduced the idea that there were ‘two Michaels,’ a ‘good Michael’ and a ‘bad Michael.’”[24] Finally, detectives told Michael “if he confessed he would get help rather than go to jail.”[25] The detectives continued to pressure Michael into confessing, which resulted in the following exchange:

  1. If I tell you a story, the evidence is going to be a complete lie.

Q. Well, then, tell us the story.

A. Well, I’ll lie. I’ll have to make it up.

Q. Tell us the story, Michael.

A. You want me to tell you a little story?

Q. Tell us the story. What happened that night?

A. Okay. I’m going to warn you right now. It is a complete lie.

Q. Tell us the story.

A. Okay. This is true. I am extremely jealous of my sister.

Q. Okay.

A. She’s always had a lot of friends and good friends and stuff like that. She was friends with people my age, all the popular girls and stuff like that. That’s true. Okay…Okay. Here is the part where I’ll start lying. That night I thought about her. I couldn’t take it anymore. Okay. So I got a knife, went into her room and I stabbed her….

Q. How many times did you stab her?

A. It’s going to be a lie. Three times…

Q. Tell me what the truth is.

A. The only reason I’m trying to lie here is because you presented me with two paths. I’d rather die than go to jail.[26]

The detectives finally had what they saw as a confession and proceeded with criminal charges against Michael.[27] Michael’s story stands as a testament to why the legal community and society as a whole must fight to ensure that the legal injustice, psychological manipulation, and emotional trauma Michael endured during police interrogations does not happen to any other child.


[1] Crowe v. Cty. of San Diego, 608 F.3d 406, 417 (9th Cir. 2010).

[2] Id. at 418.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 417.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 418-419.

[8] Id. at 418.

[9] Id. at 418-419.

[10] Id. at 419.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id. at 420.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id. at 420-421.

[24] Id. at 421.

[25] Id. at 422.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

October is Youth Justice Action Month

The office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and other community groups work to raise awareness and educate the public about the impact of the justice system on children. President Joseph Biden has proclaimed October as National Youth Justice Action Month.

“By investing more in all children’s health and well-being, our youth can build a foundation for full lives and our whole country can benefit from their unlimited potential.”

—President Joseph Biden

The theme this year is “Justice is ______________.”

For Youth Action Month Generation to Generation is asking individuals to send us what Youth Justice is ______________ to you. Send us your response and we will post it on our website. You can send a word, a series of words, or a video. All responses should be sent to: ellen@shapingchildrensfutures.org

If you would like to see what people are saying go to our website www.shapingchildrensfutures.org and view the youth justice page.

Through the lens of the US Child Welfare System: Disproportionate treatment of Black children Part 1

First, looking from a historical view of Black families in the early days of the child welfare system showed signs of prejudice and racial processes and procedures. In 1973, Wilder v. Sugarman was brought by the NY Civil Liberties Union, which sues NY City for using racial discrimination in their child welfare system processes and procedures. [i] Shirley A. Wilder, a Black 12-year-old, was rejected services from city-funded Roman Catholic or Jewish foster-care agencies, which resulted in Shirley receiving lower-quality care.[ii] The suit, later taken over by American Civil Liberties Union, was finally settled in 1986.[iii] The settlement did require NY city to use a more fair and equal process for their child welfare system, but from Shirley’s view, she was around 24 years old by this time.[iv] That time-lapse brought an oppressive systemic issue to Shirley’s involvement with the child welfare system. Due to Shirley being a Black child, she was forced to receive lower-quality care, and this oppression more than likely affected many other Black children.

Additionally, in 1974 the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was passed to deal with the national problem of child abuse.[v] The goal of CAPTA is to tackle reports of child abuse by providing funds and guidance to states, public agencies, and nonprofit organizations.[vi] CAPTA, which has been amended several times, was put in place to rectify child abuse cases.[vii] Yet, the proportion of children in need of abusive situations is small, and there lacks sufficient evidence that the services provided through CAPTA have reduced abusive incidents.[viii]

From the time of passing CAPTA, the child welfare program’s representation of Black children started increasing. With this increase, the process of screening, investigating, and assessing Black families who had a report of child abuse and/or neglect became more likely to be assigned for investigation. In the state of Texas, a study found that even when a Black family has a lower risk score than Whites, Blacks were more likely to have their case acted upon, either by some type of service provision or possibly having the child taken away from the parents. This sample shows that the individuals who work the cases have dissimilar risk approaches based on a family’s racial makeup. [ix] With the federal statute of CAPTA being enacted, there was a trickle-down effect to ensure that this legislation is making a broad change in abuse cases. Yet, statistics and studies show that the broad change with the passage of CAPTA targets Black families. Black families are seen through the media and others implicit/explicit bias as the families that are more than likely abusing their children at higher rates than other racial families. This has put a detrimental burden on Black families to not only do their best to not be reported to not experience such scorn treatment from a broken CPS system, but also it creates an oppressive feeling that no matter how hard a Black mother and/or father might try to avoid being reported abuse and neglect there is a still a strong possibility a small slip up can result in a broken family.


[i] Wilder v. Sugarman, 385 F. Supp. 1013 (U.S. D. N.Y. 1974).

[ii] Id.

[iii] Wilder v. Bernstein, 645 F. Supp. 1292 (U.S. D. N.Y. 1986).

[iv] Id.

[v] Lindsey Duncan, The Welfare of Children, 22 W. Mich. Univ. The J. of Socio. & Socio. Welfare 148 (1955).

[vi] Id.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Id.

[ix] Supra at note 2 (May 15, 2021, 5:05 PM).