Jail Death Investigation Focuses on Two Officers
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Two corrections officers at the Prince George's County jail have been placed on paid leave after being identified as the subjects of an investigation into the June death of a 19-year-old inmate, a county spokesman said yesterday.
County spokesman John Erzen said the officers were "placed on non-duty status because we received information that they were the focus of the investigation" into the death of Ronnie L. White. The inmate was found unresponsive in his cell less than 48 hours after being charged in the death of a county police officer.
Erzen declined to identify the corrections officers or to say when each was placed on leave. He said they have not been in the jail since last week.
Last week, the state medical examiner's office ruled that White was strangled, confirming an earlier finding that his death was a homicide. The autopsy report pointed to a small broken bone in White's neck -- the hyoid -- as evidence that White did not commit suicide, as one corrections officer has alleged.
In completing the autopsy, a state medical examiner traveled to the Upper Marlboro jail last week to witness a reenactment of how the guard said he found White with a sheet around his neck. More than a week after White's death, the guard came forward, telling investigators he panicked and removed the sheet, causing a suicide to be mistaken for a homicide, sources close to the investigation have said.
Some community leaders and an attorney for White's family have dismissed the guard's claim as an attempt to cover up a murder. They also have expressed frustration at State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey's reluctance, while his investigation continues, to endorse the medical examiner's ruling that White's death was a homicide.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said the officer who came forward was Anthony McIntosh, one of three guards assigned to the maximum-security unit on June 29, the morning White was found in his cell with no detectable pulse. McIntosh did not return a call yesterday seeking comment. His attorney, Timothy Fitts, did not respond to phone calls.
Corrections officer Ramon Davis was assigned to roam the unit where White was being held alone in a cell. His attorney, George Harper, said yesterday that Davis has been on paid leave since July, when he was injured in a vehicular accident while helping transport a jail inmate. "I have no knowledge of his having been" placed on leave "as a result of this case," Harper said.
A third officer, Russell Hardesty, was assigned to an enclosed control booth with a partial view of White's cell. His attorney, Darrell Robinson, said Hardesty remains on active duty. "He worked today. He's working tomorrow," Robinson said yesterday.
Robinson has said Hardesty met with investigators for more than two hours in July and told them he never left the control booth, even when paramedics arrived.
The medical examiner's final report, signed Thursday, said White probably had been strangled with a sheet, towel or crux of an elbow.
A source familiar with the probe said yesterday that Davis told investigators he found White on the floor of his cell about 10:30 a.m. and immediately called for help. An emergency response team quickly arrived, said the source, who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing investigation.
Days later, McIntosh came forward with the claim that he had found White first, the sources said. McIntosh told investigators that instead of calling for help, he panicked, pulled the sheet away and left White in the cell, the sources said.
Erzen declined to say yesterday whether it was police investigators or someone from Ivey's office who identified the officers as being of interest in the probe.
Maryland State Police and the FBI, who have been investigating the case at the request of County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), declined to comment. A staff member said Ivey was out of the office and could not be reached for comment.
White had been charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Cpl. Richard S. Findley, a decorated veteran.
Staff writer Ruben Castaneda contributed to this report.