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Suspect in Md. Officer's Death Was Strangled

Attorney Bob Henry issues a statement on behalf of the White family regarding the investigation into Ronnie White's death. Video by News Channel 8/WJLA-TV 7Related Video: State's Attorney on Investigation

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By Aaron C. Davis and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A 19-year-old man suspected of killing a Prince George's County police officer was strangled in the county jail two days after his arrest, the state medical examiner's office concluded yesterday.

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Ronnie L. White, who was found unresponsive Sunday morning, died of asphyxiation, and two small bones in his neck were broken, according to preliminary autopsy findings. County officials said he was separated from other inmates; only seven guards and an undisclosed number of supervisors had access to the area where White was held.

The news that White was killed drew immediate condemnation from civil rights advocates. The FBI began a civil rights probe, and Maryland State Police took over the investigation of White's death at the request of county officials. Investigators from both agencies were interviewing guards at the jail last night, County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) said at a news conference, where he announced the medical examiner's findings.

"We live in a constitutional democracy, and no one has the right to be judge and jury," Johnson said.

Several times, while standing beside grim-faced county law enforcement officials, Johnson described himself as angry. He said police are not suspected in White's death.

Vernon Herron, the county's public safety director, said no video cameras are trained on the area where White was held. No one at the jail has been suspended or removed, the officials said.

White, charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Cpl. Richard S. Findley on Friday, was in solitary confinement at the county Correctional Center in Upper Marlboro, jail officials have said. A guard checked on him about 20 minutes before he was found on the floor of his cell with no detectable pulse, the officials said.

Jail and hospital officials said Sunday that White's body had no visible signs of trauma and that they could not rule out the possibility that he committed suicide.

White's family was immediately suspicious. Although relatives declined to comment last night, Dorothy White, Ronnie White's aunt, said before the results of the autopsy were known that the family was convinced of foul play. "They either injected his food or his -- I don't know what," she said.

According to police charging documents made public yesterday, White "intentionally accelerated" a large pickup truck with stolen license plates toward the officer, striking and dragging him in a parking lot in Laurel on Friday morning. Findley, 39, died later at a hospital.

White was apprehended by county police that afternoon and booked into the county jail about 12 hours later. He was found unresponsive about 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

Yesterday, some civil rights advocates said the incident, involving a slain white police officer and a slain black suspect, could exacerbate historic tensions between residents of the majority-black county and white police officers.

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