GOSHEN — An Elkhart teen who admitted to his role in an armed robbery received a 12-year sentence Thursday.

Dayaavon Johnson, 17, pleaded guilty to armed robbery in court on May 23. He was charged with the Level 3 felony for his suspected involvement in a Nov. 4 incident in the parking lot of the Roosevelt Center near central Elkhart.

He and another teen were accused of responding to a Facebook Marketplace ad for a cellphone and arranging to meet with the sellers. When they met, the two grabbed the phone from the sellers, displayed a weapon and threatened to shoot if they followed them.  

Johnson was 16 at the time of the robbery but was automatically charged as an adult because of the nature of the crime. Also charged in the incident was 19-year-old Erick Quero Montes, who had a separate hearing in court Thursday

Quero Montes is still set to stand trial, but his attorney indicated that he also expects to reach a plea agreement soon.

Other opportunities

Johnson’s plea agreement allowed for a six-year prison sentence followed by six years on probation. His attorney, Peter Soldato, asked that he be committed to the juvenile division of the Indiana Department of Corrections for the first year of incarceration.

Soldato said that would allow him to appear before the judge again before his transfer to an adult facility. His transfer would be automatic if he were committed to the IDOC, which might place him in a juvenile facility if there’s room.

Soldato said he hoped that after Johnson takes some classes and shows good behavior during that year in the juvenile DOC, they could discuss it in court and decide on an appropriate course of action. As it stands now, a community corrections program wouldn’t take Johnson until he turns 18.

“The heart of this request isn’t his placement but the opportunity to come back, and hopefully by then the opportunities for other placement will expand,” Soldato told Circuit Court Judge Michael Christofeno.

He also pointed out that Johnson cooperated with investigators, confessed and showed remorse, and that he is now on his way toward earning a high school diploma equivalency. 

Johnson read the judge a letter stating that he doesn’t want to be seen as a bad kid, but he knows he needs guidance. He said he thought finishing school and getting counseling would be the best thing for him.

“I don’t want to lead this kind of life. I want to be successful,” he said. “I was walking down a dark path.”

Deputy Elkhart County Prosecutor Don Pitzer argued against the juvenile placement, remarking that armed robbery is a serious crime that could easily turn fatal. He said Johnson’s history of contacts with the law since age 13 show he has no respect for rules, the court, his parents or law enforcement.

Christofeno denied Soldato’s request after noting that the robbery occurred in a place where families live, including children younger than Johnson. He also remarked on his past charges – including auto theft, counterfeiting and resisting law enforcement – and efforts to rehabilitate him at a younger age, and said it was clear Johnson was beyond rehabilitation.

“Your behavior shows that you’re not getting it. Things are escalating, they’re not going in the right direction. And now you don’t want to be treated like an adult,” he said. “It’s in the best interest of the safety of the community that you be tried and sentenced as an adult.”

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