On June 27, 2008, White, 19, was arrested for killing county policeman Richard S. Findley. Two days later, at 10:30 a.m., White was found dead in his maximum security cell at the jail. The initial autopsy report determined that he had been strangled, and his death was ruled a homicide. [See: PLN, May 2009, p.14].
A rash of inconsistencies surrounded the subsequent investigation into White’s death. Originally, jail guard Ramon Davis claimed to have found White lying in the cell unresponsive. A camera was brought to the scene to record the removal of White’s body, but video footage showed White only after he was already on a stretcher outside the cell. Guards blamed the lapse on a camera malfunction.
Allegations of suicide were raised almost immediately by the guard’s union. However, ranking officer Gregory O. Harris had stated that White did not have access to anything that could have been used to hang himself; also, nothing was around his neck at the time his body was found, according to initial reports.
County Executive Jack B. Johnson immediately decried the incident as vigilante justice by jail guards. “If we tolerate these kinds of acts, the courts are superfluous,” he said, angrily.
Two days later, jail guard Anthony McIntosh came forward and admitted that he, not Davis, had found White’s body. McIntosh said White was hanging from a sheet and that he had pulled him down and removed the sheet without reporting the incident or calling for help. He claimed he had panicked.
Medical Examiner J. Laron Locke noted that the hyoid bone in White’s neck had been broken, an injury not consistent with hanging. Five other medical examiners interviewed by the Washington Post concluded that a broken hyoid bone is more consis-tent with violent strangulation than hanging.
Autopsy reports reflect that White’s body did not have any defensive injuries to indicate a struggle. Clothilda Harvey, attorney for the Prince George’s Correctional Officers Association, said, “There is no safety issue at the jail with respect to officers exacting revenge on inmates.”
“There was no opportunity, no motive, no murder,” added Davis’ attorney, George Harper. A year after White’s death, even County Executive Jack Johnson had changed his tune. “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,” said spokesman Jim Keary.
But not everyone was convinced. Angela White, Ronnie’s mother, has claimed the whole thing was “a cover-up” be-cause authorities “don’t want to prosecute any law enforcement officials.”
Her words have the ring of truth. Other prisoners have died or been abused while serving time in Maryland prisons and jails. [See: PLN, Feb. 2007. p.1]. Problems and corruption are widespread; for example, in 2008 several guns went “missing” from the Prince George’s County Jail armory and several guards were suspended for smuggling cell phones to prisoners. [See: PLN, Jan. 2009, p.50]. And in March 2009, jail guard John Hanna was arrested on charges of burglary, rape, abduction and other crimes.
“We believe it is disingenuous and very self-serving for county officials to suggest this was a suicide,” stated Bobby Henry, an attorney who represents White’s family. “There is no credible forensic evidence suggesting this was a suicide.”
Both Davis and McIntosh were placed on leave immediately after White’s death. McIntosh eventually resigned. Prosecutor Glenn Ivey said it was still possible that he will prosecute the guards on lesser charges of obstruction of justice and making false statements, but no charges had been filed as of November 2009.
Meanwhile, White’s father, Ronnie L. Harris, said he was disgusted with the lack of action – and justice. “They’ve had a year to try and find out who did this and they still haven’t. Ronnie died inside that jail. There were people in there. Still, a year later, they know who was in there, but they don’t know who killed Ronnie. What is that? What does that say?”
The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly investigating White’s death. Davis indicated that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if he was asked to answer questions.
White’s mother, Angela, filed suit against county and jail officials in Circuit Court on June 30, 2009, seeking $153.6 mil-lion in damages. The lawsuit alleges that guards at the Prince George’s County Correctional Center attacked and strangled White in his cell, resulting in his death, and that county officials were grossly negligent for failing to use reasonable care, to provide adequate monitoring and staffing to provide for White’s safety, to supervise and train jail staff charged with White’s protection, to implement adequate procedures and safeguards for White’s protection, and to adequately respond after White was attacked and killed.
“People are not supposed to die under mysterious circumstances in correctional facilities in America. Civil rights are real rights,” stated Hassan Murphy, one of the attorneys representing White’s family. “The blatant disregard for Mr. White’s civil and human rights by so many people in the system, who were supposed to enforce the law, is inhumane and illegal – a travesty of justice.” See: White v. Prince George’s County, Circuit Court for Prince George’s County (MD), Case No. CAL09-19552.
Sources: FBI-Baltimore press release, www.washingtonexaminer.com, www.gazette.net, www.washingtonpost.com, PRWeb press release
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Related legal case
White v. Prince George’s County
|Cite||Circuit Court for Prince George?s County (MD), Case No. CAL09-19552|
|Level||State Trial Court|