By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 5, 2008
About two dozen residents rallied outside the Prince George's County Correctional Center yesterday, demanding justice for a 19-year-old inmate who was found dead in his cell Sunday.
Ronnie L. White, who was in solitary confinement, was strangled less than 36 hours after he was brought to the county jail on first-degree murder charges in the hit-and-run death of Prince George's Cpl. Richard S. Findley on June 27.
Members of the People's Coalition for Police Accountability, church groups and other civil rights organizations said White's killer denied him his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.
"African American males in the custody of the police department or the corrections office here in Prince George's County are subject from time to time to death without trial," said coalition member Frederick Hutchinson, 53, who has lived in the county for 50 years. "And there is never, never, never any significant consequence."
One of the group's founding members, Dorothy Elliott of Forestville, became emotional as she recalled that police officers were cleared of wrongdoing in the death of her 24-year-old son, Archie Elliott III, in June 1993. Her son was shot 14 times by Prince George's officers while he sat handcuffed in a police cruiser. Officers said Elliott, who was accused of drunken driving, pointed a gun at them and refused to drop the weapon.
Dorothy Elliott offered condolences to Findley's family but said it was "incomprehensible" that White lost his life in jail. She said the slaying reinforced some residents' fear about the police force.
The county's police department has turned the investigation over to the Maryland State Police, and State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey has said he would bring the case to a grand jury when the probe is completed.
"People they apprehend deserve their day in court," said Elliot, who waved to prisoners as they banged on their cell windows during the rally. She said she was letting the inmates know "we're here for you."
The group requested the suspension of all officers who had access to White's cell the morning he died as state and federal officials conduct their investigations. Members said high-profile prisoners should be under constant video surveillance while in isolation.
Rodney Green, a member of the advocacy group, quoted Frederick Douglass's Fourth of July remarks from 1852: "For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake."