By Ruben Castaneda, Aaron C. Davis and Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
The chief prosecutor in Prince George's County said yesterday that he does not now intend to charge anyone in the death last year of a 19-year-old inmate who had been accused of killing a police officer, meaning a slaying once denounced by the county executive as "vigilante justice" is all but certain to go unpunished in state court.
State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said that after nearly a year of investigation, he does not have enough evidence to secure an indictment in the death of Ronnie L. White. In an interview, Ivey said he welcomes calls by civil rights leaders for the Justice Department to take over the case, and a Justice spokesman said federal authorities would review the investigation.
Ivey's willingness to essentially hand the case over to federal authorities without bringing charges met with swift criticism from civil rights groups and White's family. It seemed to ensure that White's death would continue to broadly cast suspicion on law enforcement officers in a county struggling to escape a history of brutality and abuse.
Months after two guards described as being "the focus" of the investigation were placed on leave, county officials said the Maryland State Police probe into White's death -- a homicide by strangulation, according to state medical examiners -- is now pointing toward a possible suicide, as an attorney for the guard's union has said almost from the start.
Bobby Henry, an attorney for White's family, said White's mother thinks that the developments amount to "a coverup" by authorities who "don't want to prosecute any law enforcement officials."
"We believe it is disingenuous and very self-serving for county officials to suggest this was a suicide," he said. "There is no credible forensic evidence suggesting this was a suicide."
Ramon Korionoff, an Ivey spokesman, said Ivey declined to comment on the allegations of a coverup.
White was found dead in his cell less than 48 hours after he was charged with killing county police Cpl. Richard S. Findley.
In the fall, a county grand jury that heard evidence in the case did not return indictments. "I don't think I have any new information at this point that would change the result from the first grand jury," Ivey said.
Ivey said he has not ruled out the possibility of bringing lesser charges, such as obstruction of justice or making a false statement. One of the two guards at the center of the investigation remains on leave; the other resigned in recent months for unrelated reasons, according to his attorney.
Ivey (D), who is considering a run for county executive next year, said lesser charges would leave many Prince George's residents unsatisfied. "I think there will definitely be members of the community who will have concerns about anything other than a conviction for murder," Ivey said.
The county branch of the NAACP held a news conference yesterday to demand the Justice review. "This is only necessary because [Ivey] failed to do his job," said June White Dillard, the branch president. "This matter should never have taken this long to handle."
According to the medical examiner's report, a small bone in White's neck, the hyoid, was broken. Assistant State Medical Examiner J. Laron Locke suggested that the injuries were inconsistent with hanging. Five medical examiners contacted by The Washington Post said the hyoid was more likely to be broken during a violent strangulation than in a suicide.
White was arrested June 27 and charged with murder, accused of running over Findley hours earlier in a Ford F-150 truck in Laurel.
Jail officials said that, two days later, about 10:30 a.m., corrections officer Ramon Davis found White unresponsive in his maximum-security cell and that efforts to revive him failed. Gregory Harris, a high-ranking jail official, said there was nothing in the cell -- such as a bedsheet -- that White could have used to harm himself.
More than a week later, another officer, Anthony McIntosh, told investigators that he had found White first. He told investigators that he found White hanging from a sheet and that instead of calling for help, he pulled the sheet down and left White in his cell.
In September, the county placed the two guards on leave, saying they had emerged as the focus of the state police investigation.
On June 30, the day White's death was ruled a homicide, County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) held a news conference during which he described himself several times as being angry. "If we have vigilante justice, our society will fall apart," he said. "If we tolerate these kinds of acts, the courts are superfluous."
Yesterday, Jim Keary, one of Johnson's spokesmen, said much has changed. "Since that time, the Maryland State Police have ruled that Ronnie White committed suicide. Not to mention the guards who have come forward and said initially what they found and what they did to cover that up."
Vernon Herron, the county's public safety director, also said the police investigation points to suicide.
State police spokesman Greg Shipley declined to comment on the county's description of its findings.
Defense attorneys said no evidence linked either corrections officer to White's death. The officers did not implicate one another, and no inmates housed nearby said they heard anything unusual, the attorneys said. The autopsy found that White's body did not bear any defensive injuries suggesting a struggle.
Timothy Fitts, an attorney for McIntosh, said Ivey had reached the "correct conclusion." George Harper, Davis's attorney, said, "My client has always maintained his innocence, and he has always been correct."
Staff reporter Henri E. Cauvin contributed to this report.