Ex-Official, Jailed in Md., Found With Handcuff Key

Keith A. Washington was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the shootings of two deliverymen.
Keith A. Washington was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the shootings of two deliverymen. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Former Prince George's County homeland security official Keith A. Washington, jailed awaiting sentencing for fatally shooting a furniture deliveryman and wounding another, was found last week with a handcuff key and had a "clear intention of escaping," according to court papers filed by prosecutors.

A Prince George's jail spokeswoman said yesterday that officials were investigating how Washington, who is also a former police officer, obtained the key. Law enforcement officials said that handcuff keys are generally universal and that the key probably could have opened any handcuffs.

According to the court papers, correctional officers discovered the key in the pocket of Washington's jail shirt Thursday, three days after he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and other crimes. Washington, 46, resisted being strip-searched before being taken to the Calvert County jail, where he was being transferred for his safety, according to the papers.

"The shirt was 'pulled' from the defendant's grip and the handcuff key was found in the pocket of the defendant's jail shirt," prosecutors wrote. "Defendant stated that he found the handcuff key approximately two hours earlier and placed same in his pocket."

The papers were filed in opposition to a request by Washington's attorneys that he be released on home detention pending sentencing, which is scheduled for April 23.

In the filing, Assistant State's Attorneys William D. Moomau, Joseph Wright and Raemarie Zanzucchi wrote that the possession of the handcuff key shows Washington is a flight risk. "Defendant's actions further show his danger to the community as the possession of a handcuff key reflects a clear intention of escaping his current circumstances," they wrote.

Yesterday, in a brief written order, Circuit Court Judge Michael P. Whalen denied the defense request.

Whalen revoked Washington's bond and ordered him taken into custody Feb. 25, the day a Prince George's jury convicted him of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of first-degree assault and two counts of using a handgun in the commission of a felony. The jury acquitted Washington of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder.

State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said yesterday he was "shocked" to learn that Washington had a key. "I thought this kind of thing only happened on shows like 'Prison Break' -- evidently not."

Washington's attorneys did not return phone calls yesterday.

An investigation is underway to try to determine how Washington obtained the key, said Vicki D. Duncan, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Corrections. Duncan said she could not comment further because of the investigation.

Police Chief Melvin C. High suspended Washington's police powers and ordered him to turn in his police gun last April. High took the action after Washington was accused of brandishing his handgun at a home appraiser who said he mistakenly knocked on the door of the officer's home in Accokeek.

At the time he surrendered his service weapon, Washington was also required to turn in whatever police equipment he had, said Officer Henry Tippett, a police spokesman. If Washington had police handcuffs and a key, he would have been required to turn those in, Tippett said.

On Jan. 24, 2007, Washington shot the deliverymen at his home in what he said was self-defense.

Deliveryman Brandon Clark, 22, died nine days later. Robert White, now 37, was severely wounded but recovered. He was a key prosecution witness at Washington's trial last month.

After the shooting, Washington left the homeland security department, where he was a deputy director. Several months ago, he was granted medical disability and retired from the police department, where he was a corporal.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company