Prosecutors in Baltimore have decided not to charge the nine middle school students accused in the beating of a 26-year-old woman on a city bus with a hate crime as a judge postponed their trial yesterday until Jan. 31.
Judge Edward R.K. Hargadon, the head of the city's juvenile judges, granted a request from the state to postpone a Jan. 4 trial date despite objections from the juveniles' attorneys. A hearing on the teenagers' home-detention status will take place Jan. 4.
In court yesterday, Assistant State's Attorney Janet S. Hankin requested the addition of two charges: malicious destruction and disorderly conduct. The teens had previously been charged with aggravated assault and destruction of property.
Defense attorneys said they had not been informed of the additional charges, which will be dealt with at the Jan. 4 hearing.
The Maryland Transit Administration Police Force, which has jurisdiction on buses, had said early in the investigation that it was reviewing the case as a possible racially motivated incident. All nine suspects are black, and the victim is white.
But the charges listed at yesterday's juvenile hearing did not include hate crimes.
Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office, would say only that the charging process is complete, and that no more charges are expected to be filed. She would not elaborate, noting confidentiality laws surrounding juvenile criminal cases.
Prosecutors said that to pursue a hate-crime violation, they would have to prove intent, that the attack was "because of another's race, color, religious beliefs or national origin." Interviews with the victim and some of the young suspects indicate that racial slurs might have been used during the fight, but that the fracas might have started over a fight for a seat.
Jawauna Greene, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transit Administration, said the agency turned over all of its findings to prosecutors, who make the final determination on the nature of the crime.
"We have to investigate all aspects of a crime," she said. "We can't rule anything out."
The Dec. 4 attack on Sarah Kreager was the first of four violent incidents this month aboard MTA buses. Two passengers on a No. 64 bus in Brooklyn were attacked by five men Dec. 10. Eight days later, a girl was stabbed in the arm on a No. 51 bus near Mondawmin Mall. And on Dec. 26, a 14-year-old boy was shot and wounded on a bus in West Baltimore.
The attack on Kreager in the 800 block of W. 33rd St. led to the arrests of nine Robert Poole Middle School students. The six boys and three girls, all 14 or 15 years old, were charged as juveniles with aggravated assault and destruction of property. Kreager, who has been put in a witness protection program, suffered broken facial bones and other injuries after being punched, kicked and dragged off the bus.
In a written report, MTA police said the beating occurred after one of the boys kept jumping in front of Kreager, claiming that the seats were reserved. When Kreager found a seat, the teens began throwing punches at her and Troy Ennis, her boyfriend, according to the report.
Britny Carter, a 14-year-old charged in the attack, previously told The Sun that Kreager prompted the fight by spitting on one of the girls, and that no racial epithets were uttered.
Kreager denied spitting and told The Sun that while she believes race might have played a role in the attack, the events spiraled out of control because the juveniles became caught up in the actions of their peers.
According to her account, she sat in the rear of the bus and was threatened by a teenage girl who said her friend wanted the seat. Kreager said she went to sit an another part of the bus with Ennis and said to him, "They don't got no manners," causing one of the girls to take a swing at them.
The juveniles charged in the case have been kept under home detention and told to stay out of school.
Gilbert Sanderson, the defense attorney for Ronald Brown, 14, called the postponement of the trial unnecessary.
"It's a very weak case," he said in an interview after yesterday's trial. "They're attempting to have more time to build a stronger case. We're ready to go."
Sanderson said he believes the prosecution is adding other charges because they're not able to prove the assault charge.
In court, Hankin, the prosecutor, said the postponement was needed to complete the investigation.
"This kind of case cannot be put together in 27 days," she said. "It involves nine different kids."
Jay M. Ortis, who represents another 14-year-old boy charged in the attack, questioned whether there was a continuing investigation.
"Our clients are all detained," he said. "They want to go back to school. Their parents want them on a regular schedule. This, frankly, I think is nonsense."
Yesterday, Ronald Brown sat slumped in his sister's West Baltimore house with an electronic monitoring device attached to his ankle. Brown, one of the juveniles charged in the attack, said he is not allowed to step outside. He said a tutor comes to the house three times a week.
The youth said he was not involved in the fight. He said the students had been laughing at Kreager because she had a black eye. He said words were exchanged between Kreager and one of the girls, but he said he did not hear what was said. Kreager's companion used a racial slur, and a brawl erupted, he said.
Felicia Dorsey, Ronald Brown's mother, said she is upset with how the incident has been handled. She said she was never notified that her son was at the juvenile facility until he didn't come home that night, resurrecting memories of her 3-year-old son, who was fatally shot in 1992 in East Baltimore.
Dorsey, 49, said she had to move out of her East Baltimore home to live with her daughter in West Baltimore because she has no phone service and couldn't hook up her son's monitoring device without it.
"This is too much," she said. "These kids are young and under a lot of peer pressure. I believe my child, so yes, I believe it was [Kreager's] fault."