In assembling a case against a group accused of beating a passenger aboard a city bus, police had to sort through conflicting statements from middle school students who appeared streetwise beyond their years.
In interrogation rooms, detectives faced off against recalcitrant children as young as 14 who remained defiant even as interrogators threatened them with adult charges and warned that their friends might be giving them up in a room next door.
One 14-year-old boy repeatedly told a Maryland Transit Administration Police sergeant that he saw the fight on the No. 27 bus in Hampden but couldn't name the people involved.
"They go to my school, but I don't hang with them," he said after the officer insinuated that he was lying because the boy refused to make eye contact.
"You know the guys you catch the bus with all the time," the sergeant said. "You see their faces all the time. Even if you don't know their last names, you know their first names. Is it that you don't want to tell me, is that it?"
The boy answered: "No, I ain't going to put them out there like that."
Hundreds of pages of documents obtained by The Sun recount police interviews in which the Robert Poole Middle School students accused in the December attack on Sarah Kreager and her boyfriend, Troy Ennis, tried to stonewall authorities.
Girls told stories that didn't match, and at one point, while they were in a holding cell, a city police officer watched them mimic the beating they were accused of carrying out -- laughing as they threw kicks and punches into the air.
Despite weeks of testimony and a ruling Tuesday by a juvenile court judge, who found five teens responsible in various ways for what 911 callers described as a riot, key details remain unclear, and those involved on both sides remain deeply divided over whether justice has been achieved.
"I didn't think it was fair," said the father of one of the boys who was found responsible. "From looking at the evidence, there wasn't any."
The judge, prosecutors and the bus driver disagreed. Danny Williams, 49, had worked as a correctional officer before he signed on to drive a bus.
Fights he witnessed in jail couldn't compare to the melee that left his bus in tatters -- a window shattered, seats torn and the back door left hanging from its hinges. Williams said in an interview, "If they kicked that woman a little higher in the head, she would've been brain dead."
The case played upon the racial fears of residents in a city troubled by crime -- a white woman attacked by black youths. Some students accused Ennis of using a racial slur, and some said Kreager spat. Kreager adamantly denied the accusations, and in court said it was one of the girls who first introduced race by telling her: "You white bitches think you own everything," when Kreager tried to sit in a spot the teen said was reserved for "her home girl."
The attack prompted the bus driver to grind his vehicle to a halt on 33rd Street at Chestnut Avenue, a few blocks from Robert Poole Middle School. Joyce King watched from her home as the back door swung open and Kreager tumbled out and into a gutter.
Then, the 57-year-old grandmother saw the teens pounce. Screaming, she rushed to help.
But in court, King couldn't identify the attackers. She said in an interview that she was too afraid to make eye contact with them. "I had this awful sense of dread that they would start hitting her again, and I wouldn't be able to do anything to stop them."
Police officers who arrived found the youths in two groups, rounded them up and had Kreager identify her attackers. They were taken to an MTA office on North Eutaw Street to be interviewed.
It was there that police heard diverging accounts of what happened aboard the No. 27 bus, according to the transcripts.
"The white man and his wife got on the bus," a 14-year-old girl told Detective Anjanette McBride Jones. "And she already had an attitude when she got on the bus ... and she went to whisper in her husband's ear something, and he said spit on them [racial slur]. And that's when Nakita got up and walked to the back of the bus. ... But she swung on Nakita and hit Nakita in her face and Nakita slapped her back."
She said that after the fight the kids knew they had hurt Kreager, and nine minutes after the recording started, the girl tells police, "I hit her, but I ain't really, you know, hit so hard."
Police pressed hard on Nakita McDaniels, 15, whose name has been public since she filed countercharges against Kreager, which prosecutors did not pursue.
Detective Margaret Fleming threatened to filed adult assault charges against the teen and told her that Kreager would need surgery for the broken bones near her left eye and that her mother would end up footing the bill.
McDaniels held her ground, saying "the lady" started the fight, that she didn't know who kicked Kreager in the face and that "I only hit her with my hand."
"And you want to stick to that," Fleming said. "All right. You can think about it, but you're facing 10 years in jail."
A 15-year-old boy, interviewed by Detective Eric Smith, was equally difficult.
"I don't really got to tell you nothing about that," he said in his police interview. "I wasn't really paying attention."
Kreager didn't spit, and Ennis didn't use a racial slur, the boy said. He said the investigation is going to "come out good for him" because he "ain't do nothing." The rest of them, he said, deserve a second chance because "they didn't start it."
More than 2 1/2 hours later, after a break in the tape, the boy changed his story.
"I hit the man two times," he said. "I didn't touch the lady. I just saw the lady on the ground. ... He kept telling us to get out of the bus and fight. ... He asked all of us to fight."
It was the 14-year-old boy who defied his interrogators the longest. Even after police told him that they had a video camera -- later found to have been defective -- aboard the bus that captured his every move, the boy never admitted to participating in the fight.
"Hold on for a second," Detective Sgt. Bryan White said. "You don't understand. The lady hit [name redacted] in the middle of a group of y'all. One of y'all tagged that lady and made her retreat back [her] to husband. Who was it?
"I ain't telling," the boy said. "I don't know who it was ..."
White asked the question again: "Who in the group tagged the lady cause you could see everything from where you were. I know you could."
"I couldn't see everything from where I was cause I was like in the middle before the doors," the teen said.
Well into the three-round interview, the boy blamed another student, who has never been charged, for the vicious kicking. But White never bought it -- the boy's body language said otherwise, he told the student.
"Everything that you just said, your body language telling me that there's ... Take your hands out of your pocket man," White said. "The fact that you can't even look me in my face now tells me that it's a lie."