BY SARAH STEPHENS
Photo from KeAira Battle’s Facebook Page.
When KeAira Battle’s body was found in the parking lot of Elmore County Hospital around 5 a.m. Friday morning, Wetumpka investigators had a suspect in her death in custody within 12 hours. They also had identified suspects in relation to leaving her body in the parking lot of the facility.
However, during the investigation, Major Crimes investigators for Wetumpka determined that Battle, 27, was actually killed in Montgomery.
This caused an issue with jurisdictional lines, and Wetumpka Police Chief Greg Benton and his investigators reached out to the Montgomery Police Department to share evidence they had obtained. That is where the problem started, Chief Benton said. He said Montgomery is refusing to investigate the murder. Multiple calls were made by investigators to different Montgomery and law enforcement officials. But officials said they could get nowhere with anyone interested in their evidence, or pursuing the case from their end. It has caused a lot of frustration for Wetumpka officers, many of whom know KeAira and her family well.
Benton invited KeAira’s family members as well as local media to share where they are in this case this morning, and assure the family they will fight for justice to be served.
Major Crimes investigators told the EAN they have evidence of when Battle was killed, as well as the location in Montgomery. They had a suspect in custody but could not charge him with murder, as the actual death was outside of their city. At best, they may could charge other suspects who were part of her body being left in the parking lot.
Those suspects could face a charge of Abuse of a Corpse or perhaps Tampering with Evidence.
No suspects in either the shooting in Montgomery or leaving the body in Wetumpka have been identified publicly, as officials try to work out how to proceed.
We have reached out to the Montgomery Police Department for comment and will update when available.
Over a dozen of Battle’s family members, including her mother Lanay Bowe of Wetumpka, were at the press conference. KeAira grew up in Wetumpka, attended Wetumpka High school, but was living in Montgomery at the time of her death. While family said she was not a saint, she was a loving person.
The family expressed grief, frustration and outrage that a suspect in her death is not in custody. Chief Benton and Assistant Chief Ed Reeves told the family they share that outrage.
When Wetumpka officials had the suspect in custody, but learned the death occurred in Montgomery, they worked to get Montgomery on the case for the murder charge.
“Montgomery was not going to put him in order to hold him,” a Detective said.
“I thank you for being here. What I want to do is give you an overview of what happened and our response to what happened,” Chief Benton said. “We ran into a stone wall with the Montgomery Police Department. We are at a point that we know for a matter of fact that it happened in Montgomery. We asked for (Montgomery’s) assistance to take the case because it did happen there and they refused.”
Chief Benton said his first phone call about the body found at the hospital came very early Friday morning.
“Once I arrived there my investigators were already working the case, trying to get the facts, taking photos, trying to identify the body. Once we found that it was KeAira, we were able to obtain some information that led us in a direction that was positive. A little further down the road we found out where it happened and who did it. We asked for Montgomery to take it over and they absolutely would not. We did call State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) with ALEA. I talked with one of their lieutenants. He said he would make a call to the DA. (The SBI Lieutenant) called me back and said we should be receiving a phone call. This was late Friday night. We still have not got a phone call. But we want to assure you we worked this case diligently. We actually made the case. It is tailor made. You would think that Montgomery PD would be thankful to take on a case that is pretty much all wrapped up for them.
Major Crimes Detectives Barfoot and Betts said there are a lot of moving parts to this case, and a lot of information will not be released, explaining that when the case is prosecuted that information needs to be used in court.
Family asked about the state or FBI taking over, and learned that those agencies usually do not get involved in local cases.
“We have witnesses, partial video, and can prove it happened in Montgomery,” Asst. Chief Reeves said.
“I have spoken to the Chief of Police myself,” Chief Benton said. “We have enough evidence that we feel very strongly we would get a conviction.”
“We put it all together but (Montgomery) hasn’t signed the warrants, and they refused,” Asst. Chief Reeves said.
Family members expressed confusion and anger over nothing being done to have a viable suspect in KeAira’s death in custody. Officers said they completely understand and this is something none of them have ever encountered in their own careers in dealing with another agency. They said had the murder occurred in Wetumpka, they at one point had the suspect in custody, and he would still be in custody.
“This is the craziest thing I have ever heard,” Chief Benton said. “This Department is here for KeAira. That is why we are having this (press conference) here today. We are not satisfied with what Montgomery is doing. They are not doing the right thing. That is why these two detectives are here to help us.”
Detectives said that the Wetumpka Police Department is unified with the family in seeking justice.
Lanay said God has her daughter now. “KeAira loved everybody.”
Chief Benton said, “Our job is to try to solve a murder. It doesn’t matter whether you are white, black or Hispanic. The body was pushed out of a vehicle in Wetumpka. And we worked it just like it happened here until we found out it didn’t. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt where it happened. It is our job, right here, as this group, to make Montgomery PD take this case. Bottom line.”
Chief Benton said he initially sent a text message to Montgomery Chief Ernest Finlay when he learned Montgomery was not willing to take the case. “And then I received a phone call. He was enraged about the text. Basically (Chief Finley) told me ‘You handle your stuff and I will handle mine.’ But we handled our stuff and we handled their stuff. They still refuse to participate.”
As for any logical reasoning as to why Montgomery refuses thus far to take over the murder investigation, Benton said he is totally confused. “The only thing I can think of is that (Finley) did not want another murder occurring in Montgomery, or taking credit for another murder.”
“I will add that they (detectives) had it figured out in about 12 hours, and they spent another six hours trying to get it in the right hands,” Asst. Chief Reeves said.
Family members said they will work together with the Wetumpka Police and in trying to find a resolution.
Detectives said their details are solid. They said they cannot speak for Montgomery, and have no idea how that police department will respond.
Wetumpka officials said what the family heard in the press conference is factual, and Wetumpka is not hiding anything.
“If I wasn’t confident, I wouldn’t sling the first mud. But we aren’t slinging mud, we are slinging facts,” Chief Benton said.
Asst. Chief Reeves worked for 18 years in Montgomery before coming to the Wetumpka Police Department.
“I have always kept a good relationship with (the Montgomery Police Department),” Reeves said. “But not anymore.”
KeAira’s mother Lanay said the last time she saw her daughter was Thursday. “She never came to visit me, but that day she came to bring me some lights for our family reunion.”
Lanay said that everyone involved with this incident was considered friends of KeAira which makes it even more troubling. She and other family members thanked the Wetumpka Police for their efforts and said that God has this. “I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. We could not ask for anything more,” family member Fay Taylor said.
“We are going to continue to press with the help of the press,” Chief Benton said.
A Chaplain for the Wetumpka Police Department said, “Here is the bottom line. The Wetumpka Police Department has been by your side ever since this happened. We came to your home, we loved on you, we stayed with you. They have been fighting for you, working for you. They will be by your side. They are not here today to say their hands are off of it. They are doing everything they can. Times are going to get tough.”
This is a developing story, and we will update as possible.