Death-threat investigation lacks result

Police no closer to arrest in case of letter to schools chief

`Waiting for the right tip'

Community leaders note difficulty of solving such incidents

April 27, 2000|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

More than a month after a racially charged death threat was sent to Anne Arundel schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham, county police say they are no closer to making an arrest -- despite having seven detectives working full-time on the case and a reward fund that tops $24,000.

"They're working just as hard as they have been, and there's nothing new to report," said Sgt. Joseph Jordan, a county police spokesman.

The threat was contained in an anonymous letter laced with racial epithets objecting to a plan by Parham to send children from mostly white Mayo Elementary School to predominantly black Annapolis Middle School while their school building was demolished and a new one built.

Last month, the school board put the plan on hold for at least a year by granting a postponement of an appeals hearing to Mayo parents who have challenged the busing decision -- focusing their complaints on the long commute it would entail.

Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan announced the creation of a seven-member task force April 7 to "reinvigorate" the death-threat investigation. The team includes detectives from each of the four police districts as well as hate crimes experts in the department.

The FBI has launched a civil rights inquiry.

"We're waiting for the right tip from the community," Jordan said. "In the meantime, we're following up on every lead we get."

Although Shanahan described the case as "solvable" when he assembled the task force, others are less optimistic.

"I'd love to hear that they caught the culprit, but I'd be surprised if I woke up one morning and heard that," said Clemon H. Wesley, a founder of RESPECT, a coalition of black organizations in the county.

"The best chance [for an arrest] is for somebody to come forward with information and say, `I want the reward money.' " he said. "The chances of being able to find who did it without that happening are pretty slim."

Wesley and other black leaders say they have confidence in the county police investigation.

"These investigations are very difficult," said Carl O. Snowden, a special assistant to the county executive and former Annapolis alderman.

"Looking at these kinds of activities that have taken place over the past decade I'm at a loss to think of one that has been resolved," said Snowden, who was the target of several Ku Klux Klan demonstrations in Annapolis.

He noted the desecration of an Annapolis synagogue with spray-painted swastikas and the defacement of an Edgewater hair salon owned by a black woman, both in 1994.

Louis Bracy, director of the Maryland Forum for African-American Leaders, said he wasn't surprised that there has been no arrest in the death threat. "If it was the act of a lone, deranged person, unless that person has a relative or friend they confided in, it's understandable."

The superintendent's plan called for Mayo's approximately 340 pupils to attend a separate wing of Annapolis Middle for two years while their 64-year-old school was razed and a new one built on the same site.

Scores of Mayo parents protested and appealed the move to the county school board, maintaining that the 45-minute one-way bus ride was too long for elementary pupils.

Leaders of the Mayo effort have decried the death threat against Parham and contributed $1,000 to the reward fund -- which also includes donations from civil rights and community groups and $15,000 from the school board.

Robin Greulich, an organizer of the Mayo parents' effort -- called the Mayo Relocation Committee -- said that county police have talked to many Mayo residents over the past few weeks as part of their investigation.

"They've been going to different members of the community, asking if there had been any problems at committee meetings, and had anyone caused a commotion at any of the meetings, and no one has," she said.

The Mayo parents asked the school board to delay the appeals hearing -- originally scheduled for April 17 and 18 -- to allow school officials to study an alternative to the Annapolis Middle move.

Committee members have proposed that the new Mayo Elementary be built on a 7-acre site owned by the Mayo Civic Association, across the street from the existing school. The association would use the old school as a community center.

Parham has authorized school planning officials to begin an environmental review of the alternative site.

County police asked that anyone with information about the threat against Parham to call Sgt. Craig Korvin, 410-222-8656.

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