ORLANDO, Fla. – The Orlando Families, Parks and Recreation Department is defending its use of money designated for the Parramore Kidz Zone program to pay for court costs for some of its members who were arrested fon suspicious of felony and misdemeanor offenses.
The goal of the city of Orlando program is to reduce juvenile crime, teen pregnancy and high school drop-out rates in Orlando’s highest poverty neighborhood, according to the City of Orlando website.
PKZ is achieving this goal by providing early childhood education, after school programs, and “programs that build family economic success, youth development programs for teenagers, access to health care, mentoring, tutoring, college access assistance and more.”
News 6 uncovered nearly $2,000 was spent by PKZ to pay for court costs in the criminal case filed against Demarcus Womack.
According to court records, Womack's first arrest happened in 2010 after an altercation at an Orlando 7-11 store.
"I was arrested, and I was charged with three counts of premeditated murder," Womack said.
The charge was lowered to aggravated assault, and he received a probated sentence.
Two years later, Womack was arrested again and charged with carrying a concealed weapon.
He pleaded no contest, and he was again sentenced to probation.
News 6 discovered his court costs, court fines, collection fees and the money to get his drivers' license back were all paid for by PKZ.
"I guess they didn't want to throw me to the wolves," Womack said.
Lisa Early, director of the Orlando Families, Parks and Recreation Department, said her agency is allowed to pay for these costs to help young people living in one of Orlando's poorest neighborhoods.
"The city's commitment to Parramore is called 'whatever it takes,''" Early said. "That's our philosophy."
In Womack's case, it took just more than $1,900 to pay his court costs.
An open records request showed the money PKZ spent came from the Orlando Community and Youth Trust, which Early said is partially funded by taxpayer money from the Department of Education.
Why did PKZ offer to pay for Womack's court fees?
"Mr. Womack is not a criminal," Early said. "Mr. Womack is now a graduate of Bethune Cookman College. He works there now. He's getting his masters degree."
However, when the fees were paid, Womack was already a graduate from B-CU.
"We would not have just given money to a criminal," Early said. "This was a young man. This was a boy, who got into trouble and had a lot of potential to do great things."
Early said she doesn't rule out helping other PKZ members with that same potential who may find themselves in a similar circumstance.
Womack is now the assistant head of football operations for Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach, and he is working on getting his master's degree in criminal justice.
He often returns to a recreation center in the Parramore neighborhood to mentor children.
"Every time I think about quitting, it just might be a quick thought, but I never let it get the best of me," he said. "I just got to keep going because I know there's little kids who walk around and say, 'Oh, that's Womack. I remember he was my counselor at the Jackson Center, and now he's doing this. If Womack can make it out of Parramore, anybody can make it.'"