Task force to investigate Arundel death threat

Note to superintendent focus of stepped-up search

April 08, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Committing to finding who issued a racially charged death threat against schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham, Anne Arundel County police chief P. Thomas Shanahan has pulled together a task force of seven detectives to "reinvigorate" the investigation.

Shanahan said yesterday investigators from each of the four county police districts and three from specialized units within the department will chase tips and leads in the case. Parham received a typewritten note laced with racial epithets two weeks ago, denouncing her proposal to bus children of Mayo Elementary from their mostly white community to the mostly black Annapolis Middle School while their elementary school was demolished and a new one built.

Although the school board decided in a closed-door meeting Wednesday to delay the plan a year to study a proposal made by parents to erect the new school on property adjacent to the old one, Parham remains under police protection, a police spokesman said.

"We had a pretty intensive investigation going on from the beginning," Shanahan said. "Because it is growing, we want to reinvigorate the investigation. I still think it's a very solvable case. I'm just trying to make sure it doesn't grow cold."

Shanahan said the task force will stay together until every lead has been investigated.

Since the news of the death threat became public, investigators from the FBI have joined the county in the search for the letter's author, helping police establish a profile of the kind of person who might have written the letter.

The school board, civil rights and civic groups -- including the south county parents who first challenged the busing decision -- have offered reward money for information leading to an arrest. The combined purse now tops $24,000.

Shanahan said county detectives have received several tips and phone calls about the letter, and three detectives from the intelligence unit -- which investigates hate crimes -- have been following up on those leads with the help of southern district officers .

But Shanahan said he enlisted the help of district detectives and Lt. Jerard Flemings commander of the Crimes Against Persons unit, to help speed up the investigation. He said there are "dozens" of people, not necessarily suspects, who need to be interviewed in what he called a "sensitive" case.

"We have good evidence," Shanahan said. "What I need is help pointing us in the right direction."

"We believe that the evidence we have obtained along with the right tip from the community will solve this case," he said.

Meanwhile, Mayo parents who have convinced the school board to consider a land swap and build the new elementary school across the street say the ball is in the school board's court.

'School board member Carlesa Finney yesterday objected to criticism by some community groups that the board was intimidated into its action. "The two issues are totally separate," she said.

She said the board views the death threat as "totally unacceptable" and supports a vigorous investigation by police. She pointed out, however, that the board also has a record of granting postponements for various plans in the past for further study.

"We cannot react in an emotional way, even in the context of this situation," Finney said.

Parham has released funds to begin an environmental review of the eight-acre property, and the school board has postponed until after June 30 a hearing in which parents planned to appeal the busing decision.

"Just the thought that they're looking at it kind of renews my faith. It really would just be a perfect solution for everyone," said Tracy Kirchner, who has led the effort.

Anyone with a tip for police should call Sgt. Craig Korvin at 410-222-8656 or Annapolis Crime Solvers at 410-267-8888.

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