Federal prosecutors end probe

Investigation of black teenager's death after 2004 brawl turns up no rights violation

September 15, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

In a decision that ends one of the most controversial cases in Anne Arundel County, federal officials said yesterday they will not bring civil rights charges against six white men in the 2004 death of a black Pasadena teenager after a brawl.

"We don't have grounds to prosecute," said Cynthia Magnuson, a spokeswoman for the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

To win a case, officials would have had to prove that 17-year-old Noah Jamahl Jones died in a racially motivated attack and because he was exercising a federally protected right. They lacked such evidence, officials said in a statement.

The decision not to press criminal charges ends a two-year inquiry into Jones' death, leaving the youth's mother embittered but lifting a weight from the young men under its cloud.

Robin Jones, the dead youth's mother, said the decision was "like slamming the door in my face." She met with officials yesterday. "Justice shouldn't be only on television, and that's the way it seems in this case," she said.

But Jacob Fortney, now 20, the only one of six manslaughter defendants tried in a Maryland court in Jones' death and whose case ended in acquittal, said the Justice Department made the right decision. "This just ends it all. This has been going on for a long time," he said.

The Anne Arundel County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and members of Jones' family, with support from congressional representatives, sought a hate-crime probe in August 2004, after Anne Arundel prosecutors dropped murder charges against four young white men.

Within weeks, prosecutors lodged manslaughter charges against the four, and two others.

The Justice Department announcement came shortly after the most recent letters from the NAACP and U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, asking about the investigation.

Magnuson said investigators spent "countless hours" on "a very thorough investigation."

Saying he was not surprised by the Justice Department's decision, Anne Arundel State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said: "Our investigation ... determined that there really was no racial reason for the fight."

But African-American leaders have disputed that - some called for Weathersbee to resign - and said Justice Department officials failed to take a deeper look into Jones' death. Yet others bristled at the charges against Fortney and his friends, saying prosecutors succumbed to pressure from the black community.

Jones, who was about to begin his senior year at Pasadena's Northeast High School, was involved in a melee outside a Pasadena home the night of July 24, 2004, and died from brain injuries. His mother and others maintained that the brawl had racial roots, that Jones and his friends went to a home where a party was taking place to remove a black friend they believed would otherwise have been beaten.

Prosecutors took their strongest case - the one against Fortney - to trial. They had dropped charges against another defendant in exchange for testimony, and when the jury found Fortney not guilty, the prosecutors dropped the charges against the other four.

The case is closed, but it has become central to the campaign of Republican David W. Fischer, who was Fortney's lawyer, to unseat prosecutor Weathersbee.


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