After 20 months of frantically searching for missing Austin teen Yasmin Acree, the police investigation took a significant step backwards as the department's Internal Affairs Division acknowledges that police botched its effort to find her.
In a letter to Yasmin's mother, Rose Starnes, dated Aug. 30, Internal Affairs stated that after a 13-month review of the case, it found that, "misconduct on the part of the Department [had] been proven."
The admission compelled Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church and Yasmin's cousin, Starnes, and West Side pastor Cy Fields to go to Chicago Police Headquarters downtown last Thursday and demand a meeting with Supt. Jody Weiss. On Wednesday, they hosted a press conference at Yamin's home on Congress Parkway to announce that the reward for information into her disappearance has been raised from $3000 to $5000. Yasmin's family has always contended that she was likely abducted from her home on Jan. 15, 2008 and was not a runway.
"We wanted to meet with the superintendent and ask him flat out: Where does the investigation stand?" said Acree. "We appreciate the fact that they have finally acknowledged what we had been saying from the beginning: the search was botched. Now, what are they going to do to rectify it?"
The day of her disappearance, Yasmin, a student at Austin Polytechnical Academy, 231 N. Pine, had gone to the Austin YMCA, 501 N. Central, before arriving home later that evening. Family last saw her in the home's basement, where her room is located, doing laundry, but by the next morning, she was gone. The family noticed a broken lock on an outside door of the house.
On July 14, 2008, Starnes filed a complaint with Internal Affairs about the handling of the case. According to her statement, Starnes claimed that along with the officers' failure to dust the lock for fingerprints - and appearing to dismiss the disappearance altogether as a simple runaway - they have yet to conduct an investigation leading to Yasmin's whereabouts.
The case has drawn an outpouring of support from fellow students and teachers from her school, as well as, local activists, including The LEADER's Network of West Side clergy, which Rev. Acree is a member. But the case thus far as yielded few leads.
Acree believes the police's mishandling of the investigation directly impacted the amount of coverage Yasmin's disappearance has received from the media.
"From day one they were saying it was a runaway, but I know better," he said. "Yasmin loved her friends and loved her family. She would not have just vanished on her own."
The family noted problems in the investigation from the beginning, arguing that police failed to treat areas of the house as a crime scene, including dusting the door and broken lock.
"There was so much traffic going in and out of the house after Yasmin vanished; the scene was immediately compromised," recalled Acree.
Although Acree and Starnes were unable to meet with the superintendent last week, they've scheduled a meeting with Weiss for today, Sept. 17. In a recent WGN radio interview, Weiss acknowledged that mistakes were made in Yasmin's case, but he still believes police investigated it to the best of their abilities. Acree, though, takes issue with that statement.
"How can there be flaws in an investigation, and, that same investigation handled to the best of their abilities? That makes so sense," he said.
Rev. Cy Fields, president of the LEADER's Network, agreed, saying: "It does not send a good message to the rank-and-file to be content with mediocrity."
"Citizens in the community expect and deserve excellence from the police department," Fields added. "We expect them to gather all the evidence, question all the persons involved and bring the case to a conclusion. That is not what happened in Yasmin's case."