WASHINGTON — A former Prince George's County corrections officer was arrested Thursday on charges that he ignored a detainee found slumped and unresponsive in his cell and then tried to cover up the discovery by falsifying reports.
The strangulation death of 19-year-old Ronnie White, who two days earlier had been arrested in the hit-and-run death of a county police officer, prompted an outcry from civil rights groups, raised concerns about the possibility of vigilante justice and helped focus attention on a spate of recent problems at the county jail.
Anthony McIntosh, 48, was arrested in New York City as the U.S. Justice Department unsealed an indictment charging him with a federal civil rights violation and with two counts of falsifying records in a federal investigation.
The indictment says McIntosh found White unresponsive in his county detention center cell on June 29, 2008, and failed to seek medical care for him or get the attention of other jail officials. Prosecutors say he falsified a witness statement and incident report, claiming that another corrections officer had found White and failing to mention that he had discovered White first but had walked away from him.
The indictment does not shed much new light on the circumstances of White's death, which triggered state and federal investigations and a wrongful death lawsuit from the man's family, and it does not identify who might have been responsible for it.
White had been placed by himself in maximum security after being arrested and charged with the hit-and-run death of Cpl. Richard Findley during a traffic stop in Laurel. Authorities said White struck and dragged Findley with a truck that had been reported stolen after the officer got out of his cruiser.
On the morning of June 29, authorities say, White was found on the floor of his cell with no pulse. Jail medical staff who treated him reported no visible signs of trauma on his body, and he was declared dead an hour later at a hospital.
Officials said at the time that seven guards had access to White at the time of his death, as did an unspecified number of supervisors. They said he had received medical and psychological assessments that did not uncover any problems, and that guards had checked on him every half-hour.
The death was ruled a homicide by strangulation and asphyxiation.
Jack Johnson, then county executive, said at a news conference the day after White's death that he thought the death was "unrelated to any act by the Prince George's County police department."
He also said, "If we have vigilante justice, our society will fall apart."
McIntosh has a court appearance Friday in New York, but no court date has yet been set in Maryland. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of depriving White of his civil rights while acting under the color of law and up to 20 years on each of the two counts of falsifying records.
Court records don't show an attorney for McIntosh, though a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Maryland says he's currently being represented by the federal public defender in New York.
A man who answered the phone at a Brooklyn, N.Y., listing for McIntosh hung up on a reporter.
A lawyer who has represented the White family did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The Justice Department declined further comment.