The lack of immediate answers in the case of slain 13-year-old Monae Turnage has left the community in limbo, Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said Thursday.
"I understand the protocols, but this family, and this city, needs to know what happened here," said Clarke, who represents the area where Monae's body was found Sunday buried under trash bags. "The image of this baby who went to roller skate and ended up lying in a back yard covered in trash is not soon an image we will recover from in this city."
Baltimore police have said little publicly since sources revealed that the .22-caliber rifle used in the killing was found in the car of an off-duty officer. Identified by law enforcement sources as 32-year-old John A. Ward, the officer has been suspended while his conduct in the aftermath of the shooting is under investigation. He has not been charged with any crime.
Police have charged two of Monae's friends, ages 12 and 13, with involuntary manslaughter.
The Police Department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, said officials are working "literally around the clock" to discover the details of what happened "minute by minute."
"We have to respect the process," Guglielmi said. "This is a criminal investigation. We're in a world where you watch TV and homicides are solved in 60 minutes. That's just not true. It takes time."
At a vigil for the girl at her middle school on Wednesday, mourners and family members expressed anger at the officer but supported the commander of the Eastern District police station, Maj. Melvin Russell, saying they trust the investigation is sincere.
Clarke and several other council members say they are confident in the Police Department's handling of the investigation thus far, and the elected officials are wary of judging whether the child's death is evidence of a wider-spread problem at the 3,000-man department.
Even so, speculation and unanswered questions swirl around the case because few details have been released about the officer's alleged involvement, council members said. Clarke called on the Police Department to release details of its investigation as soon as possible.
Monae's relatives "don't need any more grief than the death has brought them," she said. "They need to know how she spent her last moment."
Councilman Carl Stokes said he was "shocked and stunned" to learn a police officer may have acted inappropriately in the situation.
"That aspect of it is over-the-top ugly and stunning," said Stokes, who represents the 12th district where Monae lived with her family.
Stokes declined to talk about the department's handling of the case, other than to say the detectives are conducting a thorough investigation.
"I would really like the family to have the week to celebrate her life," Stokes said. "I don't want her death to become politicized."
Stokes said he and members of the community have questions: Was the rifle easy for the boys to get? To what extent was the officer involved?
Monae's death should serve as a reminder to the community that "adults have to take care of children," Stokes said.
Edward Reisinger, vice president of the council and the 10th District representative, said the police department seems to be aggressively pursuing the case.
Reisinger said he won't pass judgment on whether the officer's involvement is evidence of further troubles, although he acknowledged the Police Department has faced recent problems. More than 60 officers were involved in a kickback scheme in which they referred drivers involved in accidents to a body shop in return for cash. The department also is paying out money in settlement cases allegedly involving officer assaults, Reisinger noted.
"I don't want to assume, because there is an ongoing investigation, but there needs to be accountability," Reisinger said.
Guglielmi said every organization — whether a Police Department, a doctor's office or an airline — has problem employees. He said Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and the department overall are committed to accountability and have been in the past. For example, Guglielmi said Bealefeld personally unpinned the badges from the uniforms of the officers involved in the kickback scheme.
Councilman Brandon Scott of the 2nd District said he is angered by the allegations that Ward, the officer, was somehow involved. He called the circumstances surrounding Monae's death a "black eye" for the police department.
"When you are a person who signed up to be a police officer, you have a higher level of responsibility that goes beyond your family and the people you care about," Scott said. "I know as long as I am here, people like him will be held to a higher standard."
Scott said is committed to ensuring justice is carried out on Monae's behalf.
"We don't know what Monae could have turned out to be," Scott said. "Another baby gone too soon."
Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Hermann contributed to this article.
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