It’s been more than a year since Quinette Gantt learned from a corrections department phone call that her son was strangled to death inside a Baltimore jail.
Since then, the family has found a lawyer, and the Baltimore state’s attorney vowed to personally try the case against her son’s cellmate Gordon Staron, a 34-year-old Harford County man charged in two killings — the fatal stabbing of a 63-year-old man at an East Baltimore bus stop, and now, the death of Javarick Gantt, a 34-year-old who used sign language to communicate.
But Quinette Gantt has been left without answers to the same burning question she had a year ago: How did her son, given his disability and the relatively minor assault charges he was facing, end up in a cell with someone like Staron, who was detained on a murder charge?
“I feel the same way I felt when they called me the first time and told me that he is gone,” Gantt said in a recent interview. “I don’t understand their system, I don’t know if they’re backed up, got a lot of cases going on, I don’t understand. But it shouldn’t take no year and a half for them to give us any kind of information, because I’m assuming it’s going to be next year sometime when I get the information.”
Javarick Gantt’s death in October last year, coupled with an August report by the ACLU on conditions at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center, raised urgent questions about the facility’s ability to safely house people, especially those with disabilities. Even for advocates and attorneys accustomed to horror stories from inside the jail, Gantt’s killing stood out as an inexplicable failure.
Charging documents indicate that the slight-of-frame Gantt was locked into ”Cell 3″ with the larger Staron around 7:21 p.m. the night before he was killed, and that no one else entered or exited the cell.
A witness dubbed “Witness B” reported hearing Gantt “making noises and banging on his cell door sometime between 10 p.m.” and midnight before he was killed, according to the documents.
Staron was also a person of interest in other homicides in the city that took place before Bell’s death, sources told The Baltimore Banner earlier this year.
The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which has run the Baltimore jail system since the early 1990s, has for months declined to fulfill public records requests or answer questions about its administrative investigation into the events surrounding Gantt’s death.
A spokesperson for the department would say only that the administrative investigation is complete and had been focused on “whether procedures and policies were followed.”
“While the investigation is now closed, it is still under review by a DPSCS unit that handles personnel actions,” wrote LaToya Gray, the department spokesperson, in an email. “The department is unable to comment further at this time.”
The department also declined to say whether the completed report will ever see the light of day, saying that its legal department would have to determine whether it is a public document “at the appropriate time.”
Andrew Slutkin, the attorney representing Gantt’s family for wrongful death and civil rights claims, told The Banner that “the failure to keep the family informed about what has been learned during the investigation and the conclusion of the investigation, frankly, is terrible.”
“The family needs to understand what happened here,” Slutkin said. “And to not provide this information further injures the family.”
Staron’s attorney, Jason Silverstein, filed a plea of not criminally responsible and requested that his client undergo a mental health evaluation in response to the charges last year.
In court documents, Silverstein wrote that Staron has both “diagnosed and undiagnosed psychological disorders.” Family members reported that he has suffered past brain trauma that affects his ability to “function on a daily basis.”
Staron appeared on Sept. 1 before Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa M. Phinn. She set a hearing for Nov. 16 to schedule his trial. A doctor had been evaluating him to determine whether he meets the criteria for being not criminally responsible.
Reporter Dylan Segelbaum contributed to this report.