Curtis Pelt of Palmer Park committed suicide by hanging himself and was not murdered in his cell at a Prince George's County jail, the state medical examiner said yesterday.
Dr. Homez Guard said he based his conclusion on a police report and on the absence of other wounds on Pelt's body. "We go by the police information," Guard said. "Sometimes it's difficult to say if someone has been hanged or not. If there's any problem, the family will have to take that up with the police. But I didn't find any other evidence of injury."
The cause of death was listed as asphyxiation by hanging. Toxicological reports showing whether Pelt had been drinking or using drugs have not been completed, according to the medical examiner's office.
Pelt, 21, who was unemployed, was found hanging in his cell in the Hyattsville jail early Wednesday morning, less than half an hour after he had been locked up and while his girlfriend, Delores Cook, was in a waiting room phoning a bail bondsman. His shoelaces were around his neck and were tied to a crossbar on the jail bars.
Pelt had been arrested several hours earlier and charged with theft for allegedly walking out of a restaurant without paying a $25 bill. Family members and friends say Pelt had not been depressed and would not have killed himself. The NAACP called for an investigation.
But Prince George's County police who concluded their investigation yesterday, said they believe Pelt killed himself. "From the factual investigation, it's consistent [that he committed suicide]," said Lt. Robert Miller of the homicide squad. "Nobody else was around there at the time."
But according to Corrections Department spokesman Jim O'Neill there were at least 10 work-release prisoners in cells adjacent to Pelt's who were not locked inside the cells and therefore could have wandered past Pelt. The work-release prisoners hold jobs during the day and return to the jail at night. They have been convicted of misdemeanors such as drinking while driving and shoplifting.
Asked whether one of the work-release prisoners could have killed Pelt, O'Neill said, "I thought of that and we addressed that in our investigation and it would have been next to impossible. . . ."
Work-release prisoners at the Hyattsville jail are housed in cells adjacent to the holding cell where Pelt's body was found.
Andre Smyers, who was with Cook in the waiting area of the jail while Pelt was in the cell, said he does not believe Pelt hanged himself. "We were all in a happy mood," Smyers said.
Smyers said he thinks it's possible a work-release prisoner killed Pelt. "There were four or five of them, just walking around loose," he said. He said the black shoelace that was tied around Pelt's neck was much longer than those in his boots. The police say the shoelace belonged to Pelt.