GREENBELT — Defense lawyers are asking a judge to dismiss some charges against a Maryland jail worker accused of failing to seek medical attention for an inmate found hanging by a sheet while in custody for a police officer’s death.
Lawyers for Anthony McIntosh, who is scheduled for trial next month in federal court in Greenbelt, sought the partial dismissal Friday because they say an FBI agent falsely testified before the grand jury and prosecutors did nothing to correct her despite knowing she was wrong. Justice Department prosecutors denied the misconduct allegations.
McIntosh was working at the Prince George’s County jail on the morning of June 29, 2008, when he found Ronnie White, 19, unresponsive in his cell and hanging by his neck from a sheet. White arrived at the jail earlier in the weekend after having been charged with running over and killing a county police officer with a stolen car.
Though McIntosh entered the cell and removed White from the sheet, prosecutors say he quickly left the room, didn’t tell anyone and later falsified reports about the death. Another guard distributing food trays found White 15 minutes later, sitting on the floor with his head slumped over. Defense lawyers say McIntosh, who claimed in his report that a colleague found White, panicked at the discovery.
The state medical examiner’s office ruled White’s death a homicide by strangulation and asphyxiation and the case stirred immediate concerns that vigilante justice had taken place, especially since White had been charged in the death of a law enforcement officer. 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. Still, state prosecutors who investigated the death didn’t bring any charges, and though a federal indictment returned against McIntosh earlier this year accuses him of covering up his knowledge of White’s death, it does not allege that he or anyone else directly caused it.
McIntosh is charged with a federal civil rights offense and two counts of obstruction of justice.
At issue Friday was testimony from an FBI agent who investigated the case. Defense lawyers say the agent, Mia Winkley, falsely characterized a nurse’s statements in a way that encouraged the grand jury to indict McIntosh in White’s death.
Winkley told the grand jury that the nurse saw White shortly after 10:15 that morning and that White had a “faint pulse, which indicated that his heart was working, but not well.” But defense lawyers say the nurse had consistently stated that she saw White after 10:30 and that he was not breathing, had no pulse and was already unresponsive. The difference is critical because the trial jury will be asked to consider what role McIntosh’s alleged indifference played in White’s death.
“It was false, and she knew it was false, and it was actually quite misleadingly false,” Deborah Boardman, an assistant federal public defender, told the judge.
Forrest Christian, a Justice Department prosecutor, said there was no evidence the testimony was inaccurate and that, besides, other evidence supports the criminal charges and the theory that White could have been saved with earlier attention.
“There is ample additional evidence from which the grand jury could conclude that Ronnie White was alive, could be resuscitated and the defendant left him to die,” Christian said.
U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. didn’t immediately rule on the motion.
The judge also heard arguments on other motions, including one from prosecutors seeking to introduce evidence about McIntosh’s prior work conduct.
The government wants to tell jurors about an earlier occasion, in 2007, in which McIntosh and another officer discovered an unresponsive inmate and submitted an accurate and complete report — evidence they say shows McIntosh knew the proper way to handle an in-custody death. They also highlight a 2008 incident in which McIntosh, while guarding an inmate at a hospital, accidentally left his firearm in a public restroom but then lied about the details in a report to his supervisors.