By Aaron C. Davis, Ruben Castaneda and Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Inside the Prince George's County jail, corrections officer Russell Hardesty was stationed in a control booth with a view of two cellblocks, including the 48 cells that make up Housing Unit 5. Fellow guards Anthony C. McIntosh and Ramon Davis were assigned to patrol the ground level and a second tier of cells in the unit itself.
Of the almost 130 guards who were working at the jail the morning of June 29, when Ronnie L. White, 19, was found strangled in his cell, those three might have been in the best position to have seen what happened and are of particular interest to state and federal investigators, a law enforcement source said.
"There's a good chance they should have seen if someone went in or out -- not necessarily what happened in the cell," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation into the death of White, who was charged in the slaying of a county police officer, is ongoing.
Hardesty, who on the advice of his attorney initially declined to speak to investigators, did so yesterday for more than two hours, according to the attorney, Darrell Robinson.
Robinson, who confirmed that Hardesty was in the control booth that morning, declined to say whether his client saw anything unusual. The attorney said the booth, which has windows toward the front, is "enclosed, so he can't hear, and certainly his vision would be obstructed."
The other two guards on duty in Unit 5 were identified by the law enforcement source and a jail employee who is not authorized to speak publicly. It was not clear yesterday whether McIntosh or Davis had spoken to investigators.
McIntosh, 44, said in a brief interview that he had "nothing to do" with the incident. He then referred questions to his attorney, whose full name he would not provide, and his union president, who has not responded to phone calls in recent days. Davis, 25, did not respond to a message left with a woman who identified herself as his mother.
The slaying of White, who was accused of running down Cpl. Richard S. Findley in a stolen truck June 27, has drawn condemnation from county officials and civil rights groups. Suspicion fell on corrections officers a day after White's death, when County Executive Jack B. Johnson said only guards had access to the cell where White was held in solitary confinement. Maryland State Police and the FBI took over the investigation at the county's request after White's death was ruled a homicide.
According to the sources, White was being held on the first floor in cell 102, the second cell from the control booth where Hardesty would have been in charge of monitoring anyone entering and exiting H5, as the housing unit is known. The cell has a solid door with a small window.
Among other duties, Davis and McIntosh were responsible for monitoring inmates and dealing with their meal deliveries. One of them would typically have spent part of the shift at a first-floor desk not far from the cell where White was held, the jail employee said.
Davis has worked at the jail for three years, McIntosh has worked there for five and Hardesty has worked there more than 12 years.
Mary Lou McDonough, the county's interim director of corrections, said the "normal practice" would have been to have four officers working in the area: two in the secure control booth and two in the unit itself.
She declined to say whether that staffing arrangement was in place the morning of White's death. The two sources have mentioned only Davis, Hardesty and McIntosh as being assigned to the unit and the control booth.
McDonough said she believes investigators are canvassing a much larger pool of jail employees than just those on duty the morning of June 29. She said she was interviewed last week, and she noted that White's stay in the Corrections Center spanned four shifts.
"They're really taking it very slowly and thoroughly," she said.
No jail employees have been suspended, she said. McDonough said state police are not providing jail administrators with updates of their work.
Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, head of the state police, said in an interview that his department is working to complete a thorough investigation as soon as possible. "We're at it full-bore," he said.
Robinson, the attorney, said Hardesty, a Calvert County resident, did not usually work in the control booth but had been stationed there the day White died to relieve someone else.
Robinson said he had previously advised Hardesty not to speak to police because Hardesty had been identified as a "person of interest." He said he was unsure whether Hardesty was still a person of interest but said he was "highly confident" that his client would not be charged.
Because Findley was white and White was African American, the events have been seen by some in a racial context. Among the three guards, only Hardesty is white.
"As you might imagine, him being possibly the only white guy being implicated in a case like this, it's been a nightmare for him," he said. "The only thing he's guilty of is being at work that day."
At his Anne Arundel County apartment Monday night, McIntosh said little before referring questions to his attorney and the union leader.
"It's wrong. It's wrong," he said when asked if he was in close proximity to White's cell. He declined to elaborate except to say: "Sir, I have nothing to do with this. Okay?"
His mother, Yolanda McIntosh, said he grew up in the Brooklyn, N.Y., and has a daughter who lives in Staten Island.
A woman who answered the door at an address listed in public records as Davis's residence declined to give her name but identified herself as his mother. She said she would relay a message to Davis but declined to provide any contact information for him.
According to the jail employee, Davis has a solid reputation as an officer. Davis played football for two years at the University of Virginia and at Largo High School, the source said.
Glenn F. Ivey, the county state's attorney, said yesterday that investigators were making progress, but he cautioned that officials have "a ways to go before drawing conclusions."
Staff writers Rosalind S. Helderman and James Hohmann and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.