By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun
12:08 PM EDT, October 10, 2012
City prosecutors have declined to press charges against a Baltimore police officer after an investigation into his conduct following the accidental shooting death of a 13-year-old girl, saying they did not have enough information to pursue a case.
Monae Turnage's death shocked the community last spring, when two of the teen's juvenile friends shot her and hid her body under trash bags in an alley. They admitted to their roles in the crime during a May hearing in juvenile court.
A law enforcement source said shortly after the incident that investigators found the rifle used in the killing in Officer John A. Ward's personal vehicle. The apparent involvement by a city police officer raised the already high profile of the tragic case, with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake calling the allegations "disgusting."
After a request from The Baltimore Sun, prosecutors released a letter Tuesday that described an "insufficient basis to pursue criminal charges," a finding reached in August but not made public.
Ward remains suspended pending an internal investigation by police.
Edith Turnage, Monae's mother, said the family had not been told that charges were no longer being pursued. She said her last update came months ago from police, who said that they were submitting a "package" of evidence in support of an indictment.
"This is the first I've heard of it," Turnage said.
Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein, declined to comment about the letter.
Ward was engaged to a half-sister of one of the juvenile suspects. He was suspended immediately after he became the focus of an investigation.
His attorney, Christie Needleman, declined to comment Tuesday, but had cautioned early in the case that there were "two sides to every story."
Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said Ward is still suspended. A police investigation of the incident continues, he said. "The Baltimore Police Department fully investigates allegations of any possible failures to follow police procedures when responding to a crime scene," O'Doherty said.
On Wednesday, Rawlings-Blake said it was "hard to imagine the pain that would cause that family. She was a beautiful, beautiful girl who lost her life tragically and senselessly."
"While the State’s Attorney has declined to prosecute, the officer is still on administrative leave and that process is ongoing," the mayor added.
Turnage's relatives have been frustrated about the punishment received by the two boys — a 13-year-old who admitted to a charge of involuntary manslaughter was committed indefinitely to a treatment facility. A 12-year-old boy who admitted he helped move the body was to be monitored by the Department of Juvenile Services while living with a relative in Harford County.
At a juvenile court hearing, Circuit Judge Robert Kershaw called the boys' conduct, which included hiding her body and initially lying to investigators, "an absolute inexplicable level of horror." But he called the boys "otherwise good people who did an unfortunate and tragic thing." In juvenile court, there is an emphasis on rehabilitation over punishment.
Edith Turnage said the boys got "smacked on the wrist," and also wondered the status of an investigation of one of the boys' mothers, whose DNA was found on Turnage's clothing. She has not been charged.
A third adult was also implicated: Martinez Armstrong, a 21-year-old relative of one of the boys, has been charged with reckless endangerment. Police allege the rifle belonged to him and was left where the boys could find it.
Charging decisions in several alleged police misconduct cases have lingered for months, and the prosecutor's office has yet to replace its police misconduct prosecutor, Janice Bledsoe, after the agency said she resigned without explanation this summer. Bledsoe signed the letter in the Ward investigation.
A case against a homicide detective being investigated for leading a rogue search for his missing daughter in April and a wide-ranging overtime abuse investigation involving two commanders remain open, Cheshire said.
But the office has several other pending cases, including one against a homicide detective for perjury, and another officer charged with secretly recording a city judge is set for arraignment later this week.
Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.
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