A 33-year-old Harford County man — who was being detained on a murder charge in the fatal stabbing of a 63-year-old man at an East Baltimore bus stop — is now being investigated in the killing of his cellmate, a deaf man who was being held at Baltimore’s state-run jail on a failure-to-appear violation.

Jason Silverstein, a defense attorney for Gordon “Zach” Staron Jr., said he was told by prosecutors that his client is under investigation for the Oct. 9 killing of Javarick Gantt but said little else has been shared as the investigation continues.

The pairing of Gantt, 34, with Staron, 33, raises questions — disabilities advocates have said Gantt should have been housed with appropriate accommodations and not with a higher-risk detainee, like someone being held on murder charges.

When someone enters a jail, the facility is supposed to assess a variety of factors in determining where to house them: the severity of their crime, their height and weight, potential racial biases or gang affiliations, their health and whether they have any disabilities, said Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project.

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Kendrick, who recently toured the city jail and has long battled with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services over the conditions there, said she doesn’t know the Baltimore Central Booking Intake Center’s exact policies on classification, but best practices would tell you there’s no way someone like Staron should have been in a cell with someone like Gantt.

“You don’t put somebody who has a disability that makes them vulnerable and unable to ask for help, who’s there on relatively minor charges, with somebody who is charged with a violent crime such as murder,” Kendrick said.

Corrections department officials have released few details about Gantt’s killing, but Gantt’s mother said she was told her son was strangled to death. A source who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose details said Staron and Gantt were kept in the same cell starting on Sept. 26 until Gantt’s death on Oct. 9.

Gantt was found “unresponsive” around 6:30 a.m. that day and his death was later ruled a homicide.

Staron was being held without bail after being charged in the fatal stabbing of 63-year-old Keith Bell, who was found just after 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 6 in the 1400 block of E. Monument St.

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Detectives pulled video footage that identified the suspect’s vehicle, which was registered to Staron’s mother. They said Staron matched the man and could be seen in the video using a distinctive “hand tick.” Police later found footage of him discarding clothing in a trash bin behind a school and dumping latex gloves in a median on Central Avenue.

When Harford County Sheriff’s deputies went to serve a DNA warrant on Staron for city police two days after the killing, he emerged with a shotgun and knife but was taken into custody without incident.

Staron’s parents said he lived with them and slept in the family room, and did not return until 4 or 5 a.m. on Sept. 6, the morning of the killing. Police said Staron’s shoes had blood on them.

Staron’s initial bail review was delayed when a public defender asked for an evaluation. The next day, another public defender said cryptically “there are some very significant issues that are going to be addressed in this case.”

Bell, who was killed just shy of his 64th birthday, was a fixture in his neighborhood near the Old Town Mall, where he worked as a cashier at the liquor store for two decades.

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Though some would consider Bell homeless, his nephew, Subramonianpillai Teal, said he didn’t present that way, because the connections he built in his community meant he always had a place to stay.

Teal, who kept in touch with Bell often, said the family had been given no explanation or documents from police. His uncle’s death was a total mystery to him, but the apparent randomness of the act was the only thing that made sense, he said.

“The relationships he built here were beautiful,” Teal said. “With how random this was, it would be the only explanation. Because nobody would touch him.”

Staron has a history of petty arrests, the most recent prior to the murder arrest occurring in April 2020 when deputies searched his vehicle in the parking lot of a Wawa in Joppa. Police said they found small amounts of cocaine and fentanyl as well as ammunition, which Staron was prohibited from possessing.

In a letter to the court, Staron’s parents said he was a “kind and generous soul.”

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“He was always quick to give a hello or hug to us, his family or friends, and the first to defend the less fortunate,” they wrote to a judge in October 2020. “He works daily at winning at his life and keeping himself in check amongst his struggles, always pushing himself to be better one day at a time.”

They declined to comment when contacted by The Banner this week.

Gantt was deaf and used sign language to communicate, appeared healthy, well-fed and happy, according to his friend Anthony Taylor, who said he was on a video call with Gantt less than 24 hours before he was killed.

Not only was Gantt deaf, Taylor said, he stood at 5-foot-4 and weighed “no more than 120 pounds.”

“You’re supposed to be housed around the people who fit the criteria that you have,” said Taylor, who has himself done time at the jail. “You’re [people with disabilities are] not supposed to be housed around other people, and they’re not supposed to be in a cell.”

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Though people with disabilities are supposed to receive certain accommodations, Gantt was treated more or less like everyone else, if not worse, according to one man who said he was housed in the same tier of Central Booking as Gantt for four days earlier this year.