By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Prosecutor Glenn F. Ivey's handling of the case involving the death of a 19-year-old inmate accused of killing a police officer last year could cost him crucial votes if he pursues a run for county executive next year, residents, civic activists and political insiders say.
The decision by the Prince George's County state's attorney not to seek an indictment in the death of Ronnie L. White received mixed reviews yesterday. Some people said Ivey could have been more diligent, and others defended his tactics.
Ivey said that he did not have enough evidence to charge anyone in White's death and that he supported a request by the county branch of the NAACP for the Justice Department to take over the case.
"It's just been a real mess," said Theresa Dudley, a community activist. "I would have liked to have seen him be more aggressive about getting to the bottom of this. . . . Now here we are almost a year later, and he's welcoming the Department of Justice to intervene."
Former delegate Rushern L. Baker III, a close friend of Ivey's who is a potential political opponent, has raised questions about the decision.
Tuesday's "decision erodes the already brittle foundation of trust many residents have that their government can be fair and fast, whether the victim is an officer of the law or a young man who made some unfortunate choices," Baker wrote in a posting on his Web site.
White was found dead in his cell in the Prince George's County Detention Center less than 48 hours after he was charged June 27 with killing county police Cpl. Richard S. Findley. A state medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, but two county officials say a state police investigation suggests that White committed suicide.
Most people interviewed for this report said that they wondered whether it was too early in the campaign to say how Ivey's decision would play out in the potentially crowded race for county executive. Ivey has not formally declared his candidacy, but he has told friends and supporters that he intends to run.
Ronald Walters, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, said the two-term prosecutor could face trouble as he seeks higher office in a county with a history of police abuse.
"People are sensitive to that history, and people might feel like he is not hard enough to bring people to justice," Walters said. He said Ivey could be accused by some residents of "passing the buck" if he does not offer voters an explanation of why charges were not filed.
Former state's attorney and Baltimore mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said an incident such as White's death provides a prosecutor with an opportunity to engage the public about criminal law and procedure. Schmoke, dean of Howard University School of Law, said Ivey could provide the public with information about his decision, even if he is unable to get into details of the case.
Ivey said yesterday that he had released all the information that he could at the time. He said he has not disclosed documents because the Justice Department has taken over the investigation.
"I can't charge somebody with murder just to boost my own political career," he said. "If I have to do that, then I have to just get out of politics."
Bobby Henry, an attorney for White's family, raised questions about whether Ivey did not press for an indictment because he sought support from law enforcement unions.
Ivey could pick up votes from law enforcement officers. But an endorsement from police and correctional officers has not swayed recent county executive races. County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and former executive Wayne K. Curry won without them.
"Perception is reality in politics," said Wayne Clarke, a political consultant who has run numerous campaigns in the county. "And in this case, the perception is that he could have done a better job."
Peter Shapiro, a former County Council member, said that he does not think that the White case will cause much damage for Ivey.
"In his job, he makes allies and enemies," Shapiro said. "Given his overall record, given his other successes, I don't think it will hurt him."