Guard Says Man Had Sheet Around Neck
Autopsy in Md. Jail Death Disputed
Saturday, September 20, 2008; Page B01
For days, there was no dispute over the official account of how an inmate charged in the slaying of a county police officer was found unresponsive in his cell at the Prince George's County jail: Ronnie White, 19, was slumped on the floor beside his bunk.
But more than a week later, two sources now say, a corrections officer privately told investigators that a sheet had been found around White's neck. As the guard described it, the sheet was removed, and a suicide was mistaken for a homicide.
Community leaders and an attorney for White's family expressed outrage yesterday over the guard's claim, which they view as an attempt to cover up a murder. They are also angry about State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey's reluctance while his investigation is ongoing to endorse the state medical examiner's ruling that White was strangled and his death was a homicide.
Since the guard came forward, though his account remained secret, the possibility that White hanged himself has been given consideration by investigators. On Wednesday, lawyers, prosecutors and a state medical examiner crowded into cell 102 in the Prince George's Corrections Center, where White was found alone June 29.
Corrections officer Anthony McIntosh, one of three assigned to the unit that day, was present to describe how White and the sheet were allegedly found, according to several sources close to the investigation. An officer of similar height and weight as White -- 5 feet 11 and 160 pounds -- tried to contort into a position in which White could have hanged himself, two of the sources said.
Assistant State Medical Examiner J. Laron Locke left the reenactment apparently unconvinced. The next morning, he signed White's long-awaited autopsy report, ruling his death a homicide by asphyxiation. He concluded that White had been strangled, probably with a sheet, a towel or the crux of an elbow.
One of the sources familiar with the investigation, who, like other sources, spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was McIntosh who came forward with the claim about the sheet. According to the source, McIntosh said he panicked, pulled the sheet away and left White in the cell.
Timothy Fitts, an attorney representing McIntosh, declined to comment yesterday.
The autopsy report drew a heated response Thursday from an attorney for the corrections officers' union, Clothilda Harvey. She alleged for the first time that officers had found White in a "hanging, suspended position."
Harvey's statement met with immediate skepticism from some community leaders. "No one is going to believe" it was a suicide, June White-Dillard, president of the county's chapter of the NAACP, said yesterday.
Dillard called on Ivey, who has not ruled out suicide, to move forward immediately with a grand jury investigation and to seek an indictment. Dillard said that if Ivey and investigators concluded that White's death was a suicide, the public "would see it as an absolute cover-up."
Bobby Henry, an attorney for the White family, said the reenactment was a luxury that would not be afforded to suspects who are members of the public, not corrections officers.