Probe in teen's death to continue

County prosecutor sets grand jury sessions

Announcement follows protests

Anne Arundel

August 25, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel and Liz F. Kay | Andrea F. Siegel and Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Less than a week after Anne Arundel County prosecutors dropped murder charges against four white men in the death of a black teenager at a party, the county's state's attorney said yesterday that he plans to hold a special grand jury session Friday to look into the case.

"The grand jury will be meeting weekly until we get this resolved," said State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee.

The grand jury will take sworn testimony from witnesses, some of whom have spoken with police, behind closed doors.

Prosecutors dropped the murder charges last week because they said the preliminary autopsy report was "inconsistent" with the initial police investigation, though authorities indicated at the time they planned to continue to look into the death of Noah Jamahl Jones, 17, of Pasadena.

Weathersbee's announcement followed protests by African-American leaders and Jones' family about the decision to drop the charges.

Meanwhile, two Maryland members of Congress backed yesterday the Anne Arundel NAACP's request that the Justice Department conduct a federal civil rights investigation into Jones' death.

"The Anne Arundel NAACP has raised very serious questions about the death of Noah Jamahl Jones, and possible violations of his civil rights," U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said through a spokeswoman last night. "His family and the community deserve answers. That is why I am urging Attorney General [John] Ashcroft to launch an investigation."

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, whose district includes part of Anne Arundel County, said through a spokeswoman there are "enough conflicting accounts and uncertainty surrounding [Jones'] death" to merit a federal probe.

A Justice Department spokesman said yesterday that the agency has not received the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's letter.

An initial police account said Jones and two friends went to a home in Pasadena on July 24 to assist a friend who had been threatened. A fight broke out in front of the house, and Jones was killed.

Police said witnesses identified the attackers as Jacob Tyler Fortney, 18, of Pasadena; Richard Elbert McLeod, 18, of Chestertown; Joshua David Bradley, 20, of Pasadena; and David Michael George, 19, of Glen Burnie.

The four were arrested within days; all were released Aug. 18 after prosecutors dropped the murder charges.

Robin Jones, the victim's mother, said the autopsy report indicated that her son died of a fractured skull, an injury consistent with a fall. She said she has been dissatisfied with the medical examiner's report and the decision to drop charges.

"I think what happened to Jamahl was a racial incident, and letting the boys go is another racial incident," she said yesterday.

Favors Justice action

She said she favors a Justice Department investigation because she thinks the situation has been handled poorly.

"If he hit his head because somebody pushed him, he didn't fall on his own," said Gerald Stansbury, NAACP chapter president. "Somebody's got to be responsible for this guy's death."

Prosecutors will meet with Stansbury and other African-American community leaders this morning.

"The purpose of the meeting is for the state's attorney to explain to the community the reasons for dropping the charges and, more importantly, to explain what they plan to do to make sure the person or persons responsible for the death of Jamahl Jones are brought to justice," said Carl O. Snowden, a black community leader and county official who helped arrange the meeting.

Allegations surfaced

Weathersbee said that initially, no allegations of a race-related crime were raised to police. But they have since surfaced, as have concerns about the dropping of charges. He said that if hate-crime issues are raised before the grand jury, "we certainly will look at that. But No. 1, we have to have the crime before we look at someone's race."

Depending on the nature of the crime, a conviction of a hate crime is punishable by between three and 20 years in prison.

The NAACP's letter says that the fight July 24 was sparked by anger over interracial dating, and that the community where Jones was killed has a history of racial tensions that has spilled into Northeast High School, where Jones was about to start his senior year.

Robin Jones said that allegations made by lawyers for two of the four youths who were charged - including that Jones and his friends were armed and looking for a fight - were lies.

Incident at school

She said a white student threw chocolate milk on her son in the school cafeteria in the spring just before he was to have his photograph taken.

Administrators focused on calming her son and another teenager, she said, but the student who threw the milk was not disciplined. Frustrated, her son later hit the other boy, she said. That led to an assault charge, which was pending before juvenile authorities when Jones died.

"Had that situation been handled differently, I don't think my son would have been in trouble," she said.

Northeast principal

Northeast High Principal George Kispert described Jones as a nice, respectful student. However, Kispert said he could not comment on the incident for which Jones was disciplined because other students were involved. The principal said the school did not have a climate of racial conflict.

Police had no reports of racial incidents there during the past two years.

Some community leaders have alleged that students used derogatory language at Northeast.

The school system has developed a formal system to track incidents such as vandalism or fighting if they could possibly be motivated by bias against a particular group. Principals and other staff will begin to submit these reports starting on Monday, the first day of school.

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