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Woman charged with felony for allegedly harboring Grand Rapids runaway
By Brady Slater on Oct 27, 2016 at 5:34 p.m.

A 27-year-old Grand Rapids woman was arrested Monday and charged with a felony after she was discovered to be harboring a runaway child.

Marie Marna Booth was charged in State District Court in Grand Rapids on Wednesday with depriving another of custodial or parental rights.

Booth had been working as a counselor for the Itaskin Juvenile Center, which is operated by North Homes Children and Family Services. The girl ran away in August from what North Homes said was a separate facility that it also operates. Booth knew the 15-year-old girl on a professional level and would have been required to report her reappearance in Booth’s role as a mandatory reporter for the state.
“We are deeply troubled over the staff’s alleged involvement in this matter,” said Connie Ross, residential programs director for North Homes. “We had no reason to believe that this staff had any involvement with the youth beyond the scope of the counselor/resident relationship.”

According to the criminal complaint, Booth told a Grand Rapids police officer that she had “formed a close relationship” with the runaway teenager while working at Itaskin Juvenile Center, and that she was “stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

Booth told police she knew she should have called law enforcement upon making contact with the runaway girl. She told police she understood her counselor role made her a mandated reporter — someone who works in regular contact with vulnerable people and is required to report abuse and other issues to the appropriate authorities.

Police learned of Booth’s involvement with the runaway girl after receiving a report from someone who saw the two together in a vehicle last weekend at Blandin Beach.

Police were unable to locate Booth or the girl, but made contact with Booth at her rural Grand Rapids residence on Monday. Booth told police she knew the girl had been missing for some time and that she heard the girl was in Wisconsin.

Booth consented to a search of her residence and the girl was located in the garage.

Booth confessed that the girl had contacted Booth last weekend, the complaint said; Booth subsequently met the girl at a gas station before bringing her into Booth’s residence.

Booth does not have a criminal history; she faces two years in prison and a $4,000 fine if convicted on the felony charge.

In September, the News Tribune published a report about Grand Rapids and its issue with children running away from the city’s numerous residential services. The four teens who had been featured in that story, including the 15-year-old girl found in Booth’s garage, have now all been located and are safe, Ross said.

“We are very relieved that the youth that ran away from our residential treatment cottage has been found and is safe,” Ross said. “The safety of the children we care for is our highest priority.”

Booth has since been relieved of her job with Itaskin Juvenile Center, Ross said.

She added that the girl is currently receiving counseling and attending to her health and welfare in conjunction with North Homes and Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital.

Booth did not work at the facility at which the child resided when she ran away, Ross said. Booth was placed on administrative leave as soon as her involvement became suspected, Ross added.

North Homes is cooperating with the authorities, Ross said, and also reported the matter to the Minnesota Department of Human Services as “a critical incident.” In cases in which an employee is confirmed to have abused or mistreated a vulnerable person, the DHS has the authority to disqualify the staff person from being employed in a care-related position in the future.

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