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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Laurie Jernigan (center), mother of missing teen Ebby Steppach, wipes tears while announcing a $50,000 reward for information about her daughter’s disappearance during a news conference at the Little Rock Police Department in June 2017. With her are Melissa Holman (left) and Tonya Crandall. - Photo by Benjamin Krain

Little Rock Police Department administrators say they found "insufficient evidence" that three officers mistreated the family of Ebby Steppach at the beginning of a 2015 investigation into the teenager's disappearance.

Laurie Jernigan, Steppach's mother, received a letter from the department Monday stating there was not enough information "to prove or disprove your allegation that the sworn personnel were rude and unprofessional during your contact with them." The letter is dated Aug. 28.

Jernigan's complaint, filed Feb. 12 of this year, was against a captain, a lieutenant and a sergeant, none of whom are named in the department's notice that the internal investigation is closed.

The case of Steppach's disappearance was originally placed with the major crimes unit and was moved to the homicide squad and finally the cold case division.

Jernigan claims that the officers on the case sent her threatening text messages, yelled at her during questioning and at one point told her she wouldn't be updated on the case anymore.

"They victimized us, on top of not looking for our daughter, telling us that she'd just show up," Jernigan said. "They were just waiting to see if she'd show up. They were so rude, hateful, mean-spirited, untruthful to me and my husband."

Steppach disappeared in 2015 at the age of 18. Her car was found in Chalamont Park in west Little Rock, days after she was reported missing.

Police found her remains in a drainage pipe in the same park in May. Her death is being investigated as a homicide.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette previously reported on a series of missteps in the early stages of investigation, including waiting for days to look into reports of Steppach's car being found, failure to fully explore reports of a decomposition smell near the pipe where Steppach's body was eventually found and treating her case for the first several months as if she had run away.

Jernigan said she didn't report the detective working directly on the case because he was just doing what his supervisors told him to do, and tried to help the family. She added that the officers are no longer a part of the major crimes unit.

[IN-DEPTH LOOK: Story, photos, audio on the search for Ebby Steppach]

The department has declined to answer questions about the case on multiple occasions, citing an ongoing investigation. Lt. Michael Ford, a spokesman for the department, also didn't answer questions about the internal investigation into unprofessional behavior in dealing with Steppach's family. He said he is not allowed to discuss internal investigations unless disciplinary measures were taken.

"That's just our standard," Ford said. "We don't talk about any internal investigations."

The letter, signed by Chief Kenton Buckner, states that a "thorough investigation" was conducted by talking to immediate supervisors and command officers who evaluated the incident.

Jernigan said she submitted recordings of conversations, text message threads, witnesses and emails that proved her claims. She recalled one incident in particular during which she went into a meeting with an officer to discuss a "threatening text message" she'd received telling her she was a suspect in Steppach's disappearance.

She said the meeting escalated as the officer yelled at her, slammed files on the table and eventually told her not to call anymore regarding her daughter's case.

"He said, 'You will no longer be notified of anything going on in this case. You're not to show up, you're not to call us,'" Jernigan said.

She said she waited to file the complaint until the case was handed to detectives in another unit because she was afraid of retaliation.

"It's a Catch-22," Jernigan said. "Do you try to expose what's happened to you? Does that mean that they're not going to follow up on our case? It was definitely before Ebby was found."

She added that the family needs more time to consider whether they are going to request a review of the decision that there was insufficient evidence to determine whether wrongdoing occurred.

Metro on 09/11/2018

Print Headline: Can't verify complaints, police tell slain girl's family

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