Camera Failed in Inmate's Death

By Aaron C. Davis and Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 9, 2008

A video camera that Prince George's County jail guards were required to use in June as they rushed into the cell of an unconscious inmate accused of killing a police officer failed to record the crucial minutes when the guards arrived and moved his body, according to confidential jail reports.

The reports -- handwritten statements signed by guards, supervisors and jail nurses -- say the camera malfunctioned and did not capture the first five minutes when a team of guards entered Ronnie White's cell, began CPR and called 911.

The camera did not begin recording until after White, 19, was removed on a stretcher and his cell was ordered sealed shut, according to the reports.

Had it functioned, the camera might have created an objective record of the positioning of White's body and the contents of his cell, both of which factored into the state medical examiner's ruling that his death was a homicide.

The medical examiner said White was strangled with a sheet, a towel or the "crux of the elbow." An attorney for the guards' union has said that the inmate hanged himself with a sheet.

For reasons involving liability, the team of guards that responds to emergencies at the county jail is supposed to use the hand-held camera each time it enters a cell, jail spokeswoman Vicki D. Duncan said. She said the camera sometimes malfunctions.

Bobby Henry, an attorney for White's family, said the jail employees' assertion that the camera malfunctioned shows that the "integrity of the system has been seriously compromised."

State police, the FBI and State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, all of whom are investigating White's death, declined to comment on the failure to record the entry and the minutes that followed.

White was at the jail for just over 36 hours, charged with first-degree murder in the death of Cpl. Richard S. Findley. Police alleged that White ran Findley down while driving a stolen truck June 27.

Vernon Herron, the county's director of public safety, said he was unaware of the reports that the camera malfunctioned. He said that, in response to White's death, the county plans to install cameras that will record activity in all areas where inmates are housed and transported.

The Washington Post reviewed 13 statements given to internal investigators at the jail on the day of White's death, including those from two guards said to be at the center of the investigation into White's death. The language of the reports is, in many cases, similar.

"This incident was partially videotaped due to malfunction," one guard wrote. "This incident was partially recorded due to a camera malfunction," wrote another. Still another wrote, "Due to camera malfunction this incident was partially recorded."

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