Harford inmate killed himself in '92, wasn't sexually assaulted, grand jury concludes

February 04, 1994|By Bruce Reid and Mike Farabaugh | Bruce Reid and Mike Farabaugh,Sun Staff Writers

A Harford County grand jury, in a report released today, concludes that inmate William M. Ford killed himself and was not sexually assaulted in the county detention center nearly two years ago.

"The grand jury believes that Mr. Ford either deliberately strangled himself with [a] pillowcase or accidentally killed himself while faking a suicide attempt in a desperate effort to get out of jail," the panel said in its 19-page report.

Mr. Ford, 28, died in an isolation cell March 1, 1992.

Detention center officials originally ruled the death a suicide, but the case has received intense scrutiny since April, when the Ford family alleged that Mr. Ford had been raped and killed by guards.

The county paid the family $400,000 to settle a threatened civil rights lawsuit. The death also prompted a referendum measure during the fall on whether the county executive's administration should take over most functions of the sheriff's office, which runs the jail.

The jail's warden also was forced to retire after the death, because evidence relative to the death, including Mr. Ford's clothing, had been washed or destroyed before criminal investigators began working on the case.

An attorney for the Ford family strongly criticized the grand jury investigation.

"This thing smells to high heaven," said William F. Gately Jr. "To anyone who knows the facts of this case, this report is a travesty."

Mr. Gately complained that the grand jury did not hear from all witnesses it should have.

Carolyn Henneman, who directed the investigation for the Maryland attorney general's office, said, "Nothing was kept from the grand jury."

The report follows an eight-month investigation by the 23-member panel. In addition to its basic conclusion, the grand jury said:

"The death should have not have so quickly been characterized as either a suicide or a homicide, nor should the allegation of rape have been made pending receipt of all the evidence. . . . Similarly, the civil suit settlement should have awaited completion of the investigations.

"It is the unanimous conclusion of the grand jury that no Harford County Detention Center personnel were responsible for or involved in the death of William Ford."

"This office is sensitive to the fact that this was a terrible tragedy for the family," said Ms. Henneman. "But we are confident that justice has been done."

Other investigations have been conducted by the sheriff's office and the FBI, but no formal conclusions were made public.

Harford Sheriff Robert E. Comes, several members of the County Council and others have criticized the county settlement, saying it was done prematurely.

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