A man arrested in the hit-and-run death of a police officer was found strangled in his cell, and investigators focused Tuesday on guards at the suburban Maryland jail, which has a history of security lapses.
As state police took over the investigation, an attorney for inmate Ronnie White's family said the young man's attackers took it upon themselves to be “the judge, the jury and the executioner.”
White's death shocked and angered officials in Prince George's County, including County Executive Jack Johnson, who likened it to “vigilante justice.”
Investigators from the FBI and state police joined the case Monday after the state medical examiner concluded that White had been strangled Sunday morning.
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White, 19, was arrested early Saturday on charges of ramming a stolen pickup truck into police Cpl. Richard Findley. Findley had gotten out of his police cruiser Friday while trying to conduct a traffic stop on the truck. White allegedly struck him and dragged him for a short distance in the community of Laurel.
Johnson immediately moved to curb speculation that White's death was the result of police officers seeking revenge, saying the slaying was “unrelated to any act” by police.
Attorney Bobby Henry Jr., who represented White's family, urged the U.S. Department of Justice to join the investigation.
“Something is dreadfully wrong with our system,” he said.
County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey said his office would convene a grand jury to review evidence in the case. He said investigators were scrutinizing seven correctional officers who had access to White, who was being held separately from other inmates. Ivey also said other workers at the county jail and inmates would be questioned.
“We'll follow the evidence wherever it leads,” he said.
Rich Wolf, an FBI spokesman in Baltimore, confirmed that the agency had opened a civil rights case, but he would not comment on the investigation. Calls to state police were not immediately returned.
White's death is the latest in a series of security lapses at the jail, which is 20 miles outside Washington in one of Maryland's largest counties. Last month, the county's corrections director was fired after guns vanished from the armory. In February, a former police official convicted of second-degree murder was found with a handcuffs key.
A corrections officer suspected of being a gang member was charged in March with bringing cell phones to inmates who were members of the Bloods street gang. And earlier this year, two female officers were suspended for allegedly having sexual contact with inmates.