Family of slain girl plans to sue

An Eyewitness News Exclusive
March 26, 2009 3:40:07 PM PDT
The family of Tiana Rice will file a notice of claim on Thursday. They are putting the city on notice that they plan to sue the police department and the mortuary system for negligence.

The family and their lawyer say this case was flawed from day one.

Rice's mother says the last time she talked to her daughter on her cell phone, she heard screaming and then the line went dead.

Shirley Bird called 911 and she says it took two hours for police to arrive. When they did, they had advice for the frantic mother.

"They said it happens all the time. She'll be home in a couple days," Bird explained.

Tiana Rice never came home. The 16-year-old's naked body was found inside an abandoned house in East New York on December 30, the night her parents reported her missing.

But it would be another five weeks before police and the medical examiner made the connection.

"They weren't investigating. They assumed she was a runaway," attorney Michael Lamonsoff said.

New details from the police and the medical examiner released on Wednesday indicate that by January 12, at the latest, both agencies knew the body in their possession was not a 28-year-old woman as she was mistakenly identified as initially.

Meanwhile, Tiana's family was searching the five boroughs, putting up posters and calling police every day for help. According to the family, the police told them to stop calling. If investigators found something, they would be in touch.

When the family finally learned Tiana's fate, they were first told Tiana died of an asthma attack - natural causes.

Her parents didn't believe that either. After all, she was found naked.

Finally, last week the medical examiner said Tiana died of an asthma attack brought on while she was being held down and raped.

Tiana's mother says she went to the house last week, now a crime scene, and found her daughter's clothes in the garbage almost three months after her death. A sign, she thinks, that police hadn't bothered to check the area thoroughly.

"It didn't take a rocket scientist to do what I did. I didn't understand why they couldn't do it," Bird said.

Tiana's family disputes recent reports that she was in the abandoned home for consensual sex. They say she was a churchgoing teen who volunteered to feed the homeless and tutor younger students. A bright young girl, they say, who is missed by so many.