Grand jury to investigate Harford jail death

June 15, 1993|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Staff Writer

The Maryland attorney general's office has asked a grand jury pTC to investigate the death of William M. Ford at the Harford County Detention Center last year and has subpoenaed documents pertaining to the operation of the jail.

The grand jury investigation comes amid increasing questions about whether the death of Mr. Ford, a laborer from Wilmington, Del., was a suicide as jail officials initially announced. Mr. Ford, 28, was serving a 30-day sentence for drunken driving when he was found dead in his cell March 1, 1992. His family contends that he was raped and murdered.

Carolyn Henneman, deputy chief of criminal investigations for the attorney general's office, confirmed that her agency recently served a subpoena for documents to the county sheriff's office, which runs the jail.

In addition, Harford Sheriff Robert E. Comes has hired a private attorney, James Gillece.

Jail guards told investigators that Mr. Ford was found dead, with a pillow case around his neck, after having been left alone in an the isolation cell for about 20 minutes. Two days after the death, the sheriff's office said Mr. Ford had strangled himself.

Mr. Ford's family earlier this year raised its allegations of murder and threatened to sue the county. The county paid the family a $400,000 settlement April 26. The family's charges are supported by the autopsy report and allegations of an inmate who says he witnessed an attack on Mr. Ford by guards.

The autopsy showed that Mr. Ford suffered a fractured larynx -- an injury that three independent pathologists who reviewed the report at the request of The Sun have said is almost never self-inflicted.

In addition, former Harford jail inmate George Dennard told the FBI last fall that he had seen two guards restraining Mr. Ford while a third guard choked him on the afternoon Mr. Ford was found dead. He repeated that account in an interview with The Sun earlier this month.

Dennard passed an FBI polygraph, but investigators have raised serious questions about his account. They noted that Dennard came forward only after losing a key ruling in his own drug case and that two other inmates who were near Mr. Ford's cell at the time of the alleged attack say they did not see Dennard there.

Attorneys for Mr. Ford's family have raised numerous questions about the initial handling of the investigation into his death, including that his jail-issued clothing, his bed linen and his cell were scrubbed before they could be examined for evidence.

Ms. Henneman, whose agency recently has taken charge of the investigation of Mr. Ford's death, declined to discuss any other matters concerning the grand jury, saying that by law the process is secret.

But several sources said the attorney general's office has issued a subpoena for jail records, among them the payroll records.

It is unclear exactly when the grand jury began investigating Mr. Ford's death, although it began its term April 12.

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