I see that city prosecutors have charged two youths in connection with theft of Annie McCann's car. This is the girl who last year disappeared form her home in Virginia and was found dead at the Perkins Homes Public Housing complex in Southeast Baltimore.
Annie's parents have been pressing for police to do more; police have closed the case, saying she died from drinking a 5-ounce bottle of Bactine, which contains Lidocaine, and that they suspect she took her own life. Her parents dispute that and have pressed cops to charge the youths who admitted to moving her body out of her car and taking it for a short joy ride. They believe the youths know more than they've told cops and that charges might press them to talk.
The McCanns were angry last month when they said they tried to file charges against the youths but a District Court commissioner talked them out of it or refused after talking with the city police homicide commander. At the time, they felt police were not only refusing to adequately investigate their daughter's death but then tried to prevent the parents from contining the probe themselves.
This morning, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the homicide commander did not tell the district court commissioner not to file charges but told him "We have this case" and that they were still planning to do something. Guglielmi said police couldn't tell the family that they were planning to charge the youths, and that is what happened on Monday. (I'm sure the family will feel the charges came about only after they exerted public pressure on police).
Guglielmi said that at the onset of a homicide investigation, "the primary focus is on the cause of death." He noted rightly that there are always lesser crimes involved, such as a break-in before a murder, that must be "put on the back of the notepad for a while" during the active part of the investigation.
"If you charge people right away, chances are they aren't going to cooperate with you," the spokesman said. "It stonewalls the investigation."
Here are some of the McCanns complaints:
August 24, 2009
The Honorable Sheila Dixon, Mayor of Baltimore
City Hall, Room 250
100 N. Holliday Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21202
Dear Mayor Dixon:
Our 16-year old daughter, Annie McCann, was found dead in Baltimore on November 2, 2008. Since then, we have been systematically victimized by gross incompetence and callous disregard by your police department.
In December, recognizing the Baltimore Police Department’s lack of progress, or even effort, in investigating our daughter’s death, we engaged private investigators to assist in the investigation. Significant new leads thus developed were completely ignored by the police. In at least two instances, police actions directly undermined our private investigation.
Following a family press conference on March 2, Police Commissioner Bealefeld’s personal spokesman assured us that “all available resources” would be dedicated to a renewed investigation. In fact, next to nothing was done. The only detective assigned to the case spent the next two weeks in training. Incredibly, police even reneged on their high-level commitment to develop reward flyers and “flood” neighborhoods with them.
On March 20, pounding a table and wagging fingers, senior police officials informed us that, “This investigation is over!” They later corrected that position, explaining that the case was “suspended.” They said they didn’t care about the circumstances under which Annie had crossed state lines, nor in whose company she was. To the press, police spokesmen said they were certain that Annie had killed herself, adding plaintively, and falsely, that, “We gave it everything we had.” In point of clear fact, they had given it next to nothing.
Officially, Annie’s death has been ruled “undetermined.” While it is possible that she killed herself, that is very, very far from settled. If a suicide, Annie’s would be the first recorded instance of suicide by Bactine, an over the counter medication.
What is certain is that there remain simple and sinister circumstances, unexplored, surrounding Annie’s disappearance and death. Just as certain is the fact that Baltimore police have made a mockery of the investigation into the death of our daughter. From November 2, when they somehow failed to take Annie’s fingerprints, to March 20, when they grossly misinterpreted simple DNA test results, their actions have been consistently ineffective – sloppy, misguided, or insensitive.
We can recite numerous failings; here are two:
• Five juveniles have been placed at the scene where Annie’s body was found. By their own account, probably understated and self-serving, they dumped Annie’s dead or dying body and stole her car. Baltimore police have interviewed one of these five juveniles once, and another twice…and no others! Zero arrests. Three juveniles never interviewed. And no follow-up when private investigators, including retired Baltimore city detectives, elicited materially different versions of what happened.
• Police have failed to investigate Annie’s documented exchange of text messages in late October 2008 with a telephone registered to a man in Gainesville, VA with reported ties to Baltimore and a record of narcotics production and distribution.
Our attorney, currently indisposed, has been trying for several weeks to have the police return to us Annie’s personal belongings, including her rosary and baby blankets. Shockingly, he has been stonewalled. Except for an initial acknowledgement, zero response. The lack of professionalism shown in this simple matter, and the unfounded arrogance, speak volumes as to the quality of the investigation itself.
We could go on. Indeed, we may have occasion to do so in the future, in another forum. First, though, we would like to appeal to you, Madam Mayor. Please take this matter under advisement; examine it objectively. Discuss it with Commissioner Bealefeld. If he tells you that the department devoted more than 1,200 hours to the investigation, ask him what there is to show for that effort. Ask him how, with that effort, the lead detective did not have a photograph of Annie four months after her death, and did not know there was alcohol in her system. Ask him how the City of Baltimore can defend itself in a multimillion dollar suit, for taking stout actions against a 7-year old boy for sitting on a dirt bike, when city police blithely ignore far more serious offenses by older juveniles with lengthy criminal records.
Please help us here, Mayor Dixon. More than nine months ago, we suffered life’s cruelest blow. Since then, our anguish, and our financial expenses, have been compounded needlessly and meanly by the Baltimore Police Department. Please right this wrong. We are asking, not for extraordinary measures, but basic police work. Please re-open, and invigorate, the department’s investigation into the death of Annie McCann.
Daniel J. McCann Mary Jane Malinchak-McCann