Man Accused Of Killing Pr. George's Officer Dies

By Aaron C. Davis, James Hohmann and Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, June 30, 2008

A 19-year-old man accused of running down a Prince George's County police officer died yesterday in custody, less than 36 hours after he was charged in connection with the slaying.

Ronnie L. White was pronounced dead at Prince George's Hospital Center about an hour after he was found sitting on the floor of his cell beside his bunk, unresponsive and with no detectable pulse, officials at the county jail said.

White, of the 9100 block of Tumbleweed Run in the Laurel area of Howard County, had been charged with first-degree murder in Friday's death of Cpl. Richard S. Findley, 39. Two men in a pickup police believe was stolen hit Findley as they fled an apartment complex in Laurel. Police say White was the driver. Findley suffered massive head trauma and died a short time later.

Col. Gregory O. Harris, deputy director of operations for the county's Corrections Department, said he could not rule out the possibility that White committed suicide, but he stressed that there were no visible signs of trauma on him. He also said White had passed a medical and psychological evaluation when he entered the Upper Marlboro jail early Saturday and at that time "showed no signs of suicide or depression at all."

Ten members of White's family who gathered in the hospital's parking lot yesterday evening were visibly angry and said they were suspicious of authorities' explanations. Angela White, Ronnie White's mother, declined to comment, saying she wanted to consult a lawyer first.

White was being held in a maximum security cell, where he was not allowed to have cloth or ropelike material and was checked every 30 minutes, Harris said. He added that White was last checked 15 minutes before he was found unresponsive. An officer saw him sitting on his bed, awake and alert, at 10:15 a.m., Harris said, and at 10:30 a.m., White was discovered on the floor by an officer bringing him lunch.

An official at Prince George's Hospital Center confirmed that there was no sign of trauma on White's body or any visible cause of death. The person, who was not authorized to release information, spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Vernon Herron, director of public safety for Prince George's, ordered county police to immediately begin investigating White's death. County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey also began looking into it.

White's body was taken to a medical examiner's office in Baltimore yesterday afternoon, the hospital official said. Harris said an autopsy will be performed.

White's death follows a series of problems for the county's correctional center. This year, a corrections officer was arrested on suspicion of supplying cellphones to inmates; another was charged with armed robbery and assault; several inmates turned up with handcuff keys; and a detainee was injured when he was attacked by seven gang members in a holding area. The director of corrections was fired June 4 after four handguns were found to be missing from the jail armory.

Corrections officers told the Prince George's County Council in January that the jail is increasingly violent and so crowded it can't be fully locked down. Union officials said that officers are ill-equipped and undertrained and that the facility is badly in need of renovation.

White was booked into the jail at 12:42 a.m. Saturday, about 12 hours after he was apprehended during a search involving dozens of officers.

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