D.C. police charged a 28-year-old Northwest Washington man with second-degree murder last night after his 8-month-old daughter died at Children's Hospital, apparently as the result of a beating.

Complaining that the infant was having trouble breathing, her parents took her to a firehouse just a few yards from their five-story apartment building at 1417 Newton St. NW yesterday morning, according to D.C. police.

There, paramedics frantically administered emergency care; then they rushed the infant, Porsche Mercedes Medley, to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 11:18 a.m.

Police said last night that the infant's father, Michael Johnson, had been charged with second-degree murder in the death.

Homicide detectives yesterday questioned the mother, 18-year-old Alicia Medley, and released her.

Yesterday afternoon, a dozen young women, all of them mothers, gathered on the steps of the apartment building where the couple lives. They said that they had frequently called the D.C. police to the couple's fourth-floor apartment, saying that they had suspected that Johnson had beaten Alicia Medley.

Police acknowledged yesterday that they had answered repeated calls for service at the apartment building but said that they could not confirm how many were to the apartment that Johnson and Alicia Medley share.

Under guidelines issued last month by D.C. Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr., police officers are directed to make arrests in domestic violence situations if they observe evidence such as visible injury, overturned furniture or witnesses' allegations.

However, those guidelines carry little lasting weight if the victim declines to press charges, police officials said.

"The police should have did something then, and probably that little girl might still be here, but they wait till the last minute till they got proof," said neighbor Robert L. Brown, 44, adding that his apartment often served as a refuge for Alicia Medley. "You can't bring that baby back. It might be for the best, if she was suffering all her months. She won't be suffering anymore."