- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The state’s attorney for Prince George’s County called Tuesday for a grand jury investigation into the killing of a teen inmate in his jail cell.

“The grand jury is a way for us to make sure the investigation is thorough and objective and comprehensive,” said Ramon V. Korionoff, spokesman for State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey. “We will be working with state police and federal officials to make sure we get to the bottom of this. The grand jury serves as an investigative arm as well as a charging arm.”

The announcement follows Monday’s Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office report that Ronnie L. White, 19, died of asphyxiation and strangulation inside his cell at Prince George’s County Correctional Center in Upper Marlboro.

He died about 36 hours after being charged with first-degree murder in the death of county police Cpl. Richard S. Findley, 39.

Mr. Korionoff said the complete, written autopsy report will take at least two weeks to be completed.

Officials began calling for an investigation just hours after Mr. White’s death.

Vernon R. Herron, the county’s public safety director, asked the county police department to investigate Mr. White’s death. In addition, Mary Lou McDonough, interim director of the county’s Corrections Department, began an internal investigation.

On Monday, County Executive Jack B. Johnson asked the state police to take over the investigation.

“We live in a constitutional democracy, and no one has the right to be judge and jury,” he said.

Mr. Johnson, Democrat, said he does not think county police officers were involved in Mr. White’s death.

Special Agent Rich Wolf, an FBI spokesman, said the agency is investigating potential civil rights violations.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Tuesday that it will provide “guidance and legal advice” in the probe, but that the county’s state’s attorney office is expected to lead the investigation.

“Unfortunately, we’ve got a fair amount of experience with investigations into law enforcement,” Mr. Ivey said.

The county police department became the focus of a Justice Department investigation in 1999 because of charges that officers in the canine unit improperly set police dogs on suspects. The probe was expanded to the entire police force in October 2000 after Howard University student Prince Jones was shot five times in the back by a county officer in an apparent case of mistaken identity. Mr. Jones’ death came at the end of a decade when the county force had one of the highest shooting rates among large police departments nationwide.

An Justice Department official said Tuesday that the investigation is scheduled to end next year and does not include oversight of the county corrections department.

Corrections officials said Mr. White, of the Laurel area in Howard County, was alone in his cell and away from the general population.

Guards reported seeing Mr. White alert and sitting on the side of his bunk at 10:15 a.m. However, when guards returned with his lunch at about 10:30 a.m., he was not responsive.

Curtis Knowles, president of the corrections officers’ union, said he was working that day but was not in the unit. Officers involved in monitoring the inmate told Mr. Knowles that they came to feed Mr. White, tapped on the window and yelled through a slot in the door, but Mr. White didn’t reply. They went in and shook the inmate, but he didn’t respond.

Mr. White was taken to Prince George’s Hospital after emergency responders at the jail could not revive him or detect a pulse. He was pronounced dead at 11:39 a.m.

Officials said seven guards had access to Mr. White at the time of his death, as did a number of supervisors. Authorities are also investigating whether anyone from the outside had access to the inmate. Cameras monitor the wing but do not record.

The family’s attorney, Bobby Henry, asked for a “thorough and exhaustive investigation” and said Mr. White’s killers “took it upon themselves to be both the judge, the jury and the executioner.”

Police said Mr. White was the driver of the pickup Friday that fatally rammed, then dragged Cpl. Findley. He and another plainclothes officer - in a police unit that investigates stolen vehicles - spotted stolen tags on the vehicle in a Laurel apartment complex, in the 14700 block of Laurel-Bowie Road. The officers then attempted to box in the pickup.

Mr. White struck Cpl. Findley as he exited his cruiser.

Cpl. Findley, a 10-year veteran of the county force, died of head injuries at Laurel Regional Hospital.

Mr. White has a criminal record that includes a guilty plea to firearms possession in 2007, according to court records.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has ordered the Maryland flag lowered in memory of Cpl. Findley until sunset Thursday.

County Council Chairman Samuel H. Dean, Democrat, said on behalf of the entire council that members are “deeply concerned” over the deaths and offer condolences to both families.

“We will not tolerate violence on our streets or in our facilities,” he also said. “Public safety and the well-being of all Prince George’s County residents is a priority for this council.”

A viewing for Cpl. Findley is scheduled for Wednesday, followed by a funeral Thursday in Beltsville.