Changes Vowed After Keys Found at Md. Jail

Pastors met at Prince George's County Hospital Center Thursday in support of keeping the facilities open. Video by Hamil Harris/The Washington Post
By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 7, 2008

A mystery is developing at the Prince George's County jail: Why, twice in a single week, has an inmate turned up with a handcuff key?

On Wednesday, an inmate surrendered a handcuff key that he said he had found, authorities reported yesterday. On Feb. 28, county prosecutors said, a similar key was found in the possession of another inmate, a former county official convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

"It's highly unusual, and we have to get to the root of it," said Vernon Herron, director of the county's Department of Public Safety. "A handcuff key can only be used for one thing," he said, referring to an escape attempt.

"There's going to be some policy changes, there's going to be personnel changes," he said.

In the incident Wednesday, the inmate gave the key to correctional officers in the jail's medical unit, where he said he had found it, said a jail employee who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Keith A. Washington, a former county homeland security official who fatally shot one furniture deliveryman and wounded another in January 2007, had been held on the medical unit for a time before he was found with a key, the jail source said.

County prosecutors described that incident in a court filing opposing a request that Washington be released on home detention while he awaits sentencing. They said he had "a clear intention of escaping."

It was unclear whether the two incidents were linked.

Vicki D. Duncan, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Corrections, declined to provide details about the incident Wednesday, saying that it remained under investigation.

Duncan said that no county correctional officers had reported losing any of their handcuff keys in recent weeks. Almost all such keys are universal and would open almost any set of handcuffs, including those used by correctional officers, law enforcement experts said.

Washington, 46, was being searched last week in preparation for a transfer to the Calvert County jail, where he was being moved for his safety. Such searches are standard before an inmate is transferred, officials said.

According to the prosecution's filing, Washington resisted the search. His shirt was "pulled" from his grip, the documents say, and the handcuff key was found in a shirt pocket. Washington said he had found the key about two hours earlier, the filing says.

Circuit Court Judge Michael P. Whalen rejected the defense's request that Washington be released pending his sentencing, which is scheduled for April 23.

Washington was convicted in the shooting of two unarmed men who were delivering bed rails to his home in Accokeek. Brandon Clark, 22, died nine days after the incident; Robert White, 37, was seriously wounded.

After the shooting, Washington left his county homeland security position. He was also granted a medical disability retirement from the police department, where he was a corporal.

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