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Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump takes on Mikayla Miller’s case as speculation around her death continues

Mikayla Miller's death has sparked outrage and skepticism over authorities’ ability to adequately investigate it.
Mikayla Miller's death has sparked outrage and skepticism over authorities’ ability to adequately investigate it.Miller Family

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump said at a press conference on Wednesday that he is now representing the family of Mikayla Miller, the Black 16-year-old who died last month in Hopkinton.

Crump is a nationally recognized attorney in racial justice cases and has represented the families of Michael Brown, George Floyd, Tamir Rice, and Trayvon Martin in recent years.

Miller’s death, ruled a suicide by the state medical examiner on Tuesday, has sparked outrage and skepticism over authorities’ ability to adequately investigate it. Hopkinton Police and District Attorney Marian Ryan declined to provide information to the public for about two weeks after Miller died, and during that time fear and speculation about what happened to her proliferated. The hashtag #JusticeforMikaylaMiller has spread far beyond Massachusetts.

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Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump is now representing Mikayla Miller's family.
Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump is now representing Mikayla Miller's family.Stephen Maturen/Getty Images/file

Crump called the death “highly suspicious” on Wednesday and Miller’s mother, Calvina Strothers, said she did not believe her daughter died by suicide.

“What Calvina and the family of Mikayla Miller want to know is, was she lynched? And if she was, why aren’t we saying that?” Crump said at the press conference, likening Miller’s death to the death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia last year.

Strothers said she also did not believe that her daughter died by suicide caused by bullying, as happened in the case of Phoebe Prince in Massachusetts in 2010.

“My stance is that suicide is not an option. I don’t believe that my daughter committed suicide. So that’s not something that I’m even entertaining at all,” Strothers said.

The family has called for an independent investigation led by the FBI. They had also called for an independent autopsy. At the news conference, Monica Cannon-Grant, the founder of Violence in Boston, said her organization had paid for an independent autopsy, which was completed before Miller’s body was cremated on May 13. Strothers and Crump declined to provide the results of that autopsy on Wednesday.

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Strothers and other advocates said they were continuing to seek accountability and transparency because they felt Ryan and the Hopkinton police had unnecessarily withheld information since Miller’s death a month ago. Before the press conference, the Hopkinton police department released a batch of records that it had refused to make public previously.

Joseph Bennett, the chief of police, said in a statement that some initial records were not releasedbecause incidents involving the deaths of children are generally not included in the public log.”

“I wish to state for the record that the officers and staff of the Hopkinton Police Department are professionals who responded to this tragedy with urgency and who are assisting in conducting a thorough and impartial investigation,” Bennett said in the statement.

The police have still not made public the incident report from the altercation, citing a domestic violence law that prohibits the release of records related to “abuse arising in a substantive dating relationship.”

Communication between authorities and the family has been tense.

“D.A. Marian Ryan has released information countless times to the press before releasing that information to the family,” former Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson said at the news conference.

The district attorney said her office had been in touch with a representative of the family, attorney John Swomley, as recently as Tuesday. But Miller’s family said Swomley was not actually representing them, a fact the D.A.’s office said they only learned Tuesday night.

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The point of contact between the family and the district attorney has been a source of contention in the month since Miller’s death.

The virtual conference was the first time Strothers spoke publicly since a death certificate for the 16-year-old showed that the state medical examiner’s office concluded Miller died from suicide. A jogger discovered the teenager on April 18 in the woods about a mile from Miller’s home, according to an affidavit filed by a Hopkinton police detective. She was hanging by a thin black belt attached to a tree. The death certificate says Miller died by hanging herself.

But Miller’s family and supporters said that the district attorney is not sufficiently investigating the connection between a physical altercation involving Miller and five teenagers on Saturday and the teen’s death on Sunday. Strothers said that neither she nor Miller owned a thin black belt and that Miller was found standing, not hanging. An affidavit filed by a police detective in court said that on the morning of April 18, he saw “an African American female suspended from a tree branch.”

A spokeswoman for Ryan said on Tuesday the investigation into the events surrounding Miller’s death is “active and ongoing.”

“We will continue to explore every investigative angle necessary … and intend to issue a complete and thorough report at the conclusion of the investigation,” said Meghan Kelly, Ryan’s spokeswoman.

John R. Ellement and John Hilliard of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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Zoe Greenberg can be reached at zoe.greenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @zoegberg.