Mayor 'disgusted' over police allegations in girl's death

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Wednesday called allegations that a city police officer may have been involved in the aftermath of a fatal shooting of a 13-year-old girl "disgusting."

"As a mother, it's hard for me to describe what a tragedy this is," the mayor said, speaking after the weekly Board of Estimates meeting. "It's a tragedy made worse by allegations of police involvement. The thought of it is quite frankly disgusting."

Rawlings-Blake said she had spoken with relatives of the teen, Monae Turnage, to extend her sympathies. The mayor's comments came hours before hundreds of Monae's friends attended a neighborhood vigil to mourn her death.

"She was a sweet little girl and I really miss her," said one of her best friends, Shaniya Blanding, 13, joining classmates in the parking lot of William C. March Middle School on North Wolfe Street, where Monae had been an eighth-grader. The school is just a few blocks from where she had lived.

Monae's mother gave Shaniya her daughter's favorite teddy bear, Frizzy, which the little girl clutched close to her chest. "I'm trying not to cry," Shaniya said.

Police and prosecutors continued Wednesday to investigate the officer, who was suspended Monday. Law enforcement sources say the .22-caliber rifle believed to have been used in the shooting was found inside his personal vehicle. Two boys, ages 12 and 13, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter; the officer has not been charged with any crime.

Law enforcement sources identified the officer as John A. Ward, 32, a four-year veteran of the agency who is assigned to the Eastern District as a patrol officer. His beats include the area where the shooting occurred, the sources said, though he was off duty at the time of the shooting.

Attempts to reach Ward on Wednesday were unsuccessful, and an attorney for the police union declined to comment.

Since Ward's suspension, police have refused to verify his name and have only said that his "conduct" in the aftermath of the shooting was under investigation. Law enforcement sources said investigators believe Ward was dating a relative of one the boys charged in the killing, and they are exploring whether he advised the boys after the shooting.

The police department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, said officials would disclose details of the case once the investigation was complete.

"The Police Department cannot comment on the pending investigation," Guglielmi said. "However, the department will divulge the contents of the case … at the conclusion of the investigation. We just need to give investigators space and time to conduct an impartial review of the facts."

Rawlings-Blake also declined to comment on the details of the case, but said she would not stand for wrongdoing by police.

"I require more from our officers. They have the public's trust at hand in everything they do," she said. "It's important for everyone to know that I expect our officers to perform their duties and in accordance with the law at all times."

Only one speaker at the vigil, the Rev. Willie Ray, who has railed against violence for years, mentioned the officer's alleged involvement.

"We have to pray for the officer too," Ray told those gathered. Speaking from a small platform and into a bullhorn, Ray called Monae a "martyr" for calling attention "to murders that happen every day, murders that we ignore every day."

Several people at the vigil knew not only Monae but Sean Johnson, a 12-year-old who was shot and killed last year while sitting on his front porch, a block from her home. According to data released recently by the city health department, the area including the Darley Park neighborhood has the highest homicide rate in the city.

"We're just recovering from Sean," said Vonda Cole, whose son knew both victims "Now they have to recover from another one."

The children recalled Monae as a lost friend and the grown-ups referred to her as a "little flower" who bopped around the neighborhood and made everybody smile.

A neighborhood resident, the Rev. Delores Jordan, associate pastor of Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore, where Saturday's funeral for Monae is scheduled, led everyone in prayer, reminding them that Jesus blessed children and urging everyone to reach out "and touch someone."

She urged God to "give us peace in the midst of this storm."

The principal of William C. March, Iona Spikes, said that "we know our students are in conflict," before giving way on the stage for officials including the City Council president and other members. Monae's mother called on all of them, including the commander of the Eastern District, Maj. Melvin Russell, to attend the funeral.

Children holding red balloons and white candles that flickered in the wind lined up to sign giant cards, one quoting Monae in the afterlife. "I have arrived in heaven and I'm OK," one read. "I received a call from God but little did I know that there wouldn't be enough time to say goodbye."

One girl couldn't finish writing. "I'm going to cry," she said, as an adult rushed to her side, "Let it out," the adult said.

Shytia Moody, 14, another of Monae's close friends, bought a pink teddy bear holding a heart and gave it to the slain girl's mother, Edith Turnage. "It was her favorite color," Shytia explained, saying she and Monae shared several classes and both played lacrosse.

Turnage accepted the gift and invited Shytia to the family home. Another girl then approached and touched Shytia's shoulder, but broke down before she could speak. "Hold me," she said to her friend, and the two embraced, crying on each other's shoulders.

The City Council members all said they knew next to nothing about the officer's alleged involvement in the case. But they vowed to get answers.

Russell would only say, "I'm here to support the family." Turnage said detectives and city leaders have shared few substantive details about the investigation of the officer with her.

Monae's aunt, Patricia Marshall, who identified the body at the scene on Sunday, said it was important that Russell speak at the funeral, even if he avoided the issue of the officer's potential involvement. "Just his presence will let everyone know that he doesn't condone what happened," Marshall said. "It's not his fault."

The investigation of the officer is the latest setback to a Police Department working to burnish its image after several scandals. In the past year, one officer has been charged with dealing drugs from a station house parking lot, and more than a dozen officers have been convicted in a kickback scheme involving a car-repair and towing company.

Police on Monday charged the two boys with shooting Monae once in the chest while playing with the rifle over the weekend. Police said the youths dragged her body outside, across an alley and hid it under trash bags in a backyard.

Monae's relatives said one of the young suspects called her mother twice, once to say she was on her way home, and then again to ask if she had arrived. When Monae did not get home by 1 a.m. Sunday, the mother called police.

Family members searched all day Sunday until Monae's 16-year-old brother found her body about 6 p.m. Police then questioned the youths and charged them. Investigators do not release the names of suspects charged with juvenile offenses.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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