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Second teen involved in drive-by shooting of St. Joseph officer Rhema Harris set to plead guilty to battery

A front photo of a Black woman Rhema Harris
Photo provided, St. Joseph County Police Department
Rhema Harris was killed in a shooting in June 2022. She was an army veteran and St. Joseph County corrections officer

A second teenager involved in a drive-by shooting that killed St. Joseph County jail officer Rhema Harris is pleading guilty.

Braelyn Rios was 14 years old when he tagged along with his uncle Braxton Bird who led a drive-by shooting which killed Rhema Harris in Mishawaka in 2022.

Bird was 17 at the time and was feuding with a girl who lived at the house who is unrelated to Harris, however it was the 26-year-old St. Joseph County Jail officer who was killed in the shooting.

Both Braelyn and Braxton were charged with murder and attempted murder for their roles in the shooting, though court testimony indicated it was Braxton’s gunfire which hit Harris.

Bird was sentenced to 58 years in prison in December after a trial. Now prosecutors are also nearing a conviction of Braelyn Rios, who has agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated battery, while the murder and attempted murder charges are to be dismissed.

Per the plea agreement, Braeyln is agreeing to a 10-year sentence at a minimum, though how much of that would be spent in prison would be up for newly appointed judge David Fransisco. It’s also possible Fransisco could sentence Braelyn as a juvenile, in which case the 10-year minimum wouldn’t apply.

Braelyn's attorneys have argued from the start of his case that he should be treated as a juvenile since it was Braxton who got a hold of the guns used in the shooting and organized the whole thing.

However St. Joseph County magistrate Graham Polando ruled that Indiana law treats accomplishes who both participate in a shooting as equally responsible for the outcome of the shooting regardless of which bullets find their mark or not. In his order moving Braelyn's case to adult court, Polando wrote "While [Braelyn] is young, the justice of these actions was not a complicated moral question, requiring developed thought."

Even though Braelyn's case is currently in adult, or superior court, Fransisco could still sentence him as a juvenile, which means the boy could only be sentenced until he turned 18. He is currently 16.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.