Family of slain woman frustrated with investigation; Chattanooga police say process takes time

Taja Whiteside / Contributed photo by Akedus Hamilton
photo Taja Whiteside / Contributed photo by Akedus Hamilton

Taja Whiteside's family is frustrated with how long it took Chattanooga police to name a suspect in her killing. But Chattanooga police say homicide investigations can sometimes be a lengthy process.

Since Whiteside's death, her family has been raising awareness on social media, desperately asking for help locating the man suspected of killing her. Police, on the other hand, did not publicly identify 30-year-old Kameron Leslie as a suspect until one month later.

Whiteside was found dead in her Moody Sawyer Road home by her son on Jan. 11. A medical examiner's report later revealed she'd been strangled to death.

Within hours of Whiteside's death, Chattanooga police sent an advisory to other law enforcement agencies to "request assistance in locating Kameron Leslie, who was wanted for questioning at that time," police spokeswoman Elisa Myzal said in an email.

A screenshot of that advisory was posted to Facebook by a citizen on Jan. 16. The document, which was meant for law enforcement use only, identified Leslie only as a person of interest.

Leslie was finally named a suspect and charged with first-degree murder on Monday. But police still need help locating him for arrest.

Whiteside's cousin Akedus Hamilton said her family is unsettled by the amount of time it took police to charge Leslie and reach out to the public for help in locating him.

"The police had 31 days [and] counting since her death" to disseminate information and possibly locate Leslie sooner, Hamilton said.

"If the Chattanooga police doesn't feel like she worth trying hard to solve her case, we will," she said in a statement.

"To experience this type of trauma in your life," the kind that's heard about in other cities, "allows you to see the process the police has and the dragging of time it takes for answers," she said.

The Chattanooga Police Department acknowledged that homicide investigations can take a long time.

"Investigating any homicide involves many detailed procedures," Myzal said in an email. " This very comprehensive process can take weeks, sometimes longer."

Homicide investigators "meticulously collect, document, and review evidence along with conducting multiple interviews."

Since it wasn't immediately clear whether Whiteside's death was a homicide, investigators had to work with the Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office to determine the cause, manner and circumstances surrounding her death.

In some cases, investigators then present their entire case to the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office, and ultimately, the grand jury. Other cases are an immediate arrest.

"Investigators discuss this with the District Attorney's Office and determine which way to proceed on a case-by-case basis," Myzal said.

In Whiteside's case, apart from immediately reaching out to other law enforcement agencies, Chattanooga police also entered her missing vehicle's information into a national database, Myzal said.

That database can be accessed by nearly every law enforcement agency in the United States at any given time. It helps locate stolen property, missing persons and fugitives.

"These investigators care about grieving families," Myzal said. "They work tirelessly to get them the answers and results they deserve, sometimes this can be a lengthy process."

For Whiteside's family, though, the wait has been especially frustrating because they've been suspicious of Leslie from the beginning.

"We need and want Justice4Taja," Hamilton said.

"Dealing with this tragedy has numbed our family," she said. "This was so sudden, and so unexpected that it feels as if it's not real and time has completely stopped in that one day!"

Coping with Whiteside's loss would have been much easier "if it had been God's calling," a natural cause, Hamilton said.

"But to swallow the fact that a human made a decision to take a life over something that maybe could have been talked through" is hard, she said.

To them, Whiteside wasn't "just a number in the death books," Hamilton said.

She was a mother, daughter, sister, cousin, best friend, a provider.

"So God will shine light and clear the darkness," Hamilton said. "We will not stop our movement we will go even harder for Taja until justice is served. We love you Taja."

Anyone with information about Whiteside's killing or Leslie's whereabouts, is asked to call the Chattanooga Police Department's Homicide Tip Line at 423-643-5100 or submit a tip using the free Chattanooga PD smartphone app.

Leslie is described as a black male, 6 feet tall and weighing about 175 pounds.

Tipsters can remain anonymous.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfree or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.