On Wednesday July 9, The LEADER’s Network, a citywide coalition of clergy, along with family and friends of missing Austin youth Yasmine Acree, held a press conference at the Chicago Police Department’s 25th District headquarters. The purpose of the press conference was to speak out about CPD’s negligence in handling Yasmine’s case.

While our criticisms were not taken very well by police there, who insisted that more than 2,000 man hours has been spent on Yasmine’s case, it does not nullify the real possibility that officers may have blown this case in its most crucial first hours. We met with the 25th Dist. commander to discuss our concerns.

Yasmine was reported missing on Jan. 15, 2008. The investigating officer came by the family’s home, conducted an interrogation and completed his initial report. Even though Rose Starnes, Yasmine’s mother, told the officer that the padlock leading to the basement where Yasmine’s bedroom is had been cut and that there was a break-in, the lock was not confiscated by the investigating officer.

On Jan. 17, I arrived at the house accompanied by two other ministers, Rev. Marshall Hatch and Rev. James Missick. We were all astonished to see the padlock on the living room table still on the premises two days after a CPD investigator had been by the house.

On Jan. 18, I, along with other members of the community held a press conference at the 15th District Police Station to bring attention to Yasmine’s disappearance, and to ask all Chicagoans for help in a citywide search. It wasn’t until after that press event and a call of inquiry by a local pastor regarding the lock, that the lock was finally confiscated by the police. The lock was removed from their Austin home that Friday afternoon, Jan. 18, three days after the initial investigation, and plenty of time for any potential evidence to be compromised.

In our July 9, meeting with the 25th District we were told that the investigator that started on this case was reassigned three days into his investigation. The timing of the reassignment struck many of us as rather unusual. It strangely coincides with the same time that the lock was confiscated. Although the new lead detective and other officers are working hard on this case-and we are very grateful for their efforts-he is not the original investigating officer.

Many of us are familiar with a very harsh reality in Chicago when an officer “blows it.” It is not a surprise or abnormal when he then vanishes from the scene, if for no other reason but to protect him from the intense scrutiny from the merciless public and constant hounding from the media. It certainly would not be out of the question or unprecedented for this response to be a necessary move of damage control.

The Chicago Police unjustifiably continue to make the case of Yasmine that of a runaway, even with very little evidence to validate the claim. The fact is, she has never run away and you can’t find an adult that is active in her life who believes that she has. Yasmine receives accolades from youth leaders from her church, teachers from her school and from the North Lawndale YMCA where she was an active participant. They all have said emphatically that Yasmine does not fit the profile of a typical runaway.

On the night that Yasmine disappeared, her mother spent that night in Elgin with her grandchildren. At this particular time, she was renting a room to her former boyfriend. He was the last person to see Yasmine and he was also the one who discovered the forced entry and broken lock. We are unhappy with the reckless manner in which the police handled the initial stages of this investigation. They can put 10,000 hours in this case, but it can never overturn or eliminate the careless handling of the first hours of the investigation. Yasmine is an excellent student and has a loving personality. She certainly deserves more.