Jail Guards Did Not Kill Inmate, Their Attorney Says

By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 17, 2008

An attorney for Prince George's County correctional officers said last night that guards did not kill the inmate who was found unresponsive in his cell last month, and she faulted county officials who she said "rushed to judgment" in labeling the death a homicide.

Clothilda Harvey of the Correctional Officers Association predicted that investigators will either find the cause of death for Ronnie L. White inconclusive or determine that he committed suicide.

"There aren't many possibilities," she said. "Was it a homicide, was it a suicide or was it inconclusive? They did not commit homicide. You will not find that."

The guards, she said, "did nothing wrong."

White, 19, was found with no detectable pulse June 29, two days after he was charged in the slaying of a county police officer, Cpl. Richard S. Findley, 39. Jail officials said at the time that they could not rule out suicide.

The next day, however, the state medical examiner's office preliminarily ruled the death a homicide. At a news conference, county officials said that White, who had two broken bones in his neck, had been strangled and that only guards had access to his cell, where he was held in solitary confinement.

Harvey said yesterday that county officials unfairly put guards under suspicion by releasing the preliminary autopsy findings and by raising the specter that guards had carried out, in the words of County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), "vigilante justice."

John Erzen, a spokesman for Johnson, did not immediately return a call seeking comment last night.

Glenn F. Ivey, the county state's attorney, declined to comment directly on Harvey's statement but said he has not ruled out any theory in the case, including the possibility that White committed suicide.

"I'm keeping an open mind, and I mean that literally," he said. "We'll see where the evidence takes us."

A source familiar with the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing, said key figures in the investigation have yet to be interviewed.

Bobby Henry, an attorney for White's family, scoffed at Harvey's remarks.

"I don't believe for one second that this was a suicide. Plain and simple, this was a murder, and no amount of smoke and mirrors will be able to deter the truth coming out," he said.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company