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CHICAGO -- Two teenage girls have been charged with beating a female witness in the murder case of a Chicago Police officer and a social worker, authorities said Thursday.
Tashianda Howland, 18, and a 16-year-old relative attacked a witness to events following the Aug. 13 shootings of Officer Robert Soto, 49, and Kathryn Romberg, 45, authorities said.
Howland and her relative were arrested Wednesday, just hours after prosecutors dropped charges against 26-year-old Jason Austin, who was the only suspect in the murders. One of the teenage suspects was dating Austin, law enforcement sources said.
The witness was beaten at least twice on the West Side, and police said they are now keeping a close watch on her, sources said.
On Aug. 19, the 16-year-old suspect hit the witness in the face with a lock attached to a string, police said. The victim suffered a swollen lip and eye during the attack in the 600 block of North Troy, authorities said. The 16-year-old girl also made threats on the victim's life, police said.
Last Saturday, Howland beat the witness with her fists, sources said.
Then on Wednesday, the 16-year-old allegedly threatened the witness with a canister of pepper spray. Police said they recovered box cutters, scissors, a knife and a can of Mace from the 16-year-old.
On Thursday, the 16-year-old was ordered held by Juvenile Court Judge Carol Kelly on felony charges of aggravated battery and intimidation.
Howland is charged with simple battery, a misdemeanor, sources said.
The 16-year-old -- who is 5-foot-5 and 175 pounds -- has a long criminal record that includes arrests for aggravated assault of a firefighter, resisting and obstructing a correctional officer, aggravated domestic battery, criminal damage to property, aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon and criminal trespass to vehicles, sources said.
Howland -- who is 5-foot-5 and 195 pounds -- did not appear to have a prior criminal record.
On Wednesday, prosecutors dismissed murder and armed robbery charges against Austin in Soto's and Romberg's slayings, citing "challenges with witness statements."
Problems with the case against Austin -- and prosecutors' decision to drop the charges -- were first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Sources told the newspaper that witnesses began recanting their accounts, fearing retaliation. Austin's attorney David Wiener also pointed out that Austin's maroon Buick Regal -- the vehicle allegedly used in the shooting -- was in a repair shop a day before shooting and was still there several hours after the crime.
Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine and police Supt. Jody Weis stressed Wednesday that this week's court action does not preclude further charges.
Meanwhile, an anonymous donor has contacted the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation and is offering $25,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the Soto and Romberg murders. Anyone with information can contact Harrison Area detectives at (312) 746-8252.