Roberto Grant’s Death In Notorious Manhattan Jail Was Deemed “Undetermined.” Experts Say It Was A Homicide

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It was Might 2015, and Roberto Grant had pleaded responsible to collaborating in a collection of luxurious watch retailer heists. He was awaiting sentencing on the Metropolitan Correctional Middle, the federal jail in decrease Manhattan, when he died a violent loss of life. An post-mortem launched a yr and a half later listed his explanation for loss of life as “undetermined.”

Grant’s household says MCC directors and their superiors on the federal Bureau of Prisons misled them about what actually occurred the evening he died. And they’re demanding solutions.

“I don’t know the way they did it,” mentioned Crecita Williams, Grant’s mom, who is for certain her son was murdered however admits she does not have all of the info about what occurred. “I don’t even like fascinated about it as a result of it hurts to know that he couldn’t assist himself, or nobody was there to assist him. At the least have his again.”

Not like the suicide of MCC’s most notorious resident, globetrotting pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, Grant’s loss of life garnered no worldwide headlines and prompted no public penalties for the guards on obligation on the time.

With the assistance of transparency advocates the Gumshoe Group and lawyer M.J. Williams, Gothamist/WNYC has obtained over 200 pages of medical and investigation information relating to Grant’s loss of life. The paperwork present that, opposite to an official’s early declare that Grant overdosed, the 35-year-old had no medicine in his system when he died. He did, nonetheless, have in depth accidents to his neck that some medical specialists say point out he was choked to loss of life.

“In society, you’re solely nearly as good as you deal with people who find themselves most susceptible,” mentioned Andrew Laufer, the lawyer representing Grant’s mom and ex-wife, the mom of their twin daughters, in a federal lawsuit towards the jail. “Prisoners are most susceptible. They need to be secure doing their time in jail. They shouldn’t have to fret about being murdered.”

Nestled amongst Manhattan’s grand federal courthouses, behind the enduring Municipal Constructing, MCC is straightforward to miss with its brown, brutalist partitions and slender, darkish home windows. The constructing homes a whole bunch of individuals, most of whom have but to be convicted of a criminal offense.

Lately Gothamist investigations and different studies have revealed the torturous circumstances inside: overcrowding, cells that flood with sewage, home windows caked in mildew, extreme rodent and bug infestations, and medical help that’s paltry, if it comes in any respect.




The mother of Roberto Grant, Crecita Williams, holds a photo of Grant with his younger brother.

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Crecita Williams holds an outdated picture of Grant, seen right here at left together with his youthful brother Cecilio Grant at proper.


Scott Heins / Gothamist

On Might nineteenth, 2015, at round 11:40 p.m., prisoners in Grant’s unit, 11 South, yelled to guards to return assist “an inmate handed out,” in keeping with a jail captain’s memo. Officers wrote that they discovered Grant on his mattress with out a pulse. In accordance with their accounts, they administered CPR, transferred him to a stretcher, and shocked him with a defibrillator. Nothing labored.

Paramedics drove Grant to New York-Presbyterian Decrease Manhattan Hospital, just below the Brooklyn Bridge entrance from the jail. Docs there pronounced him lifeless simply after 12:30 a.m.

Grant’s mom says that when she went to MCC, jail spokesman Lee Plourde informed her Grant had died of a K2 overdose. (The BOP declined by way of its Washington, D.C. press workplace to make Plourde obtainable for questions.)

For the subsequent yr and a half, that was all the data the household had. The Medical Examiner’s Officer solely launched the post-mortem round New Yr’s 2017, after household lawyer Andrew Laufer says he filed discover that they supposed to sue the BOP in federal courtroom. Health workers are sometimes anticipated to finish autopsies inside 90 days, and delays past 90 days are one thing the Nationwide Affiliation of Medical Examiners considers when deciding whether or not to supply accreditation.

The labs that ran toxicology exams on Grant’s physique discovered no medicine in his system. What the post-mortem does present are in depth accidents to Grant’s neck, amongst different accidents that medical specialists inform Gothamist are typical of strangulation.

Undated, handwritten notes launched by the BOP as a part of its investigation information embody a reference to town’s former deputy chief medical expert, Jennifer Hammers, who carried out the post-mortem. These notes lay out a number of of Grant’s accidents and state that they’re “NOT CPR RELATED” and “CONSIST. OF BEING CHOKED.”

And but, the post-mortem lists the trigger and method of loss of life as, “Undetermined.”

Hammers is now in non-public apply in Pennsylvania. Workplace of the Chief Medical Examiner spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis mentioned that Grant’s official explanation for loss of life remains to be undetermined, and that the company doesn’t focus on particular autopsies. Hammers declined to remark, referring inquiries to OCME.

“There’s nothing undetermined about this,” mentioned Tara Godoy, a forensic nurse who runs a nationwide medical forensics agency and frequently testifies about strangulation in courtroom. Godoy reviewed Gothamist’s information. “It’s very, very clear it’s a murder,” she mentioned.

Furthermore, it’s very clear that Grant was choked to loss of life, in keeping with Godoy.

“I don’t suppose there’s any pathologist that might take a look at that and say it’s something aside from strangulation,” she mentioned.

Priya Banerjee, a non-public forensic pathologist in Rhode Island, reviewed the post-mortem and toxicology studies as properly. Emphasizing that she had not seen extra information resembling investigation studies or Grant’s medical historical past, Banerjee additionally mentioned the medical expert’s findings level to murder.

“The post-mortem confirmed in depth deep neck accidents, and that to me signifies exterior trauma inflicted by one other particular person or individuals,” Banerjee mentioned. She defined that it’s not a medical expert’s job to determine the perpetrator, “however once I interpret the accidents on this vogue, the style of loss of life could be murder, not ‘undetermined’ because the post-mortem has said on this case.”

Notes from the BOP’s interviews with prisoners within the days after Grant’s loss of life don’t point out violence, however they do appear to point out a spotlight by investigators on the potential of Grant utilizing artificial marijuana, or K2.

“Heard dude handed out from smoking K2,” one unidentified inmate is famous as saying.

“Dude simply handed out,” one other mentioned.

A 3rd describes Grant, who among the prisoners knew by the nickname Panama, as “smoking together with his cellie,” and states that somebody whose title was redacted “bought k-2 on the unit.”

Artificial marijuana consists of cannabis-like chemical compounds made in labs that may be sprayed onto something smokable. The substance can go undetected by drug exams, though a lab particularly examined Grant’s blood for it as a part of his post-mortem. These properties, and the drug’s cheapness, make it standard amongst individuals underneath state supervision. Certainly, a present and a former New York Metropolis correctional officer have been charged in February with allegedly smuggling K2 into Rikers Island utilizing comedian books and courtroom papers soaked within the stuff.

The illicit nature of K2 manufacturing implies that any chemical will be within the concoction, together with doubtlessly lethal ones, resembling an ingredient in rat poison, which was blamed for K2 overdose deaths in 2018.

“Heard over the previous few days that there’s actual robust k2 going round,” one other prisoner informed BOP investigators after Grant’s loss of life. “They been calling it loss of life.”

Nonetheless, medicine weren’t present in Grant’s system. And, Banerjee mentioned, “Even when the medicine have been current, to me it will not clarify the extent of the accidents within the neck.”

“What it comes all the way down to is it looks as if Roberto was choked out by one other prisoner,” mentioned Laufer, Grant’s household’s lawyer. “Everyone doesn’t see something, hear something, doesn’t need to say something.”

Whoever did the strangling, the BOP in the end bears the blame, Laufer mentioned. In depositions, he defined, MCC guards mentioned that they have been alleged to patrol Grant’s tier each 30-40 minutes. However there have been solely two guards monitoring Grant’s space, and a guard on obligation the evening of Grant’s loss of life mentioned they solely patrol a couple of instances per eight-hour shift, in keeping with Laufer.

“This might very properly have been prevented,” he mentioned.




The Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan

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The Metropolitan Correctional Middle in Decrease Manhattan


Madeleine Crenshaw / Gothamist

The Bureau of Prisons declined to say what number of MCC inmates have died in custody over the previous decade. However 897 individuals died in federal custody nationwide in 2016 and 2017, the newest interval for which figures can be found, throughout which a median of about 189,000 individuals have been federally incarcerated. 87 of these deaths have been from suicide and murder. The federal government labeled 18 deaths in the identical interval as “unknown” or “different.”

This previous yr, the coronavirus pandemic swept by way of federal correctional amenities together with MCC, the place 118 workers members and inmates have come down with the virus, in keeping with BOP knowledge. The company declined to share the ability’s present testing positivity charge. Nationally, of about 109,000 exams carried out in BOP amenities because the pandemic began, over 46,000, or about 43% have been constructive; 232 of these contaminated have died, all however 4 of them prisoners.

MCC’s sister federal facility, the Metropolitan Detention Middle, throughout the river in Sundown Park, Brooklyn, has fared worse, struggling 472 confirmed infections and one loss of life, that of prisoner Edwin Segarra, 46. Public defenders not too long ago faulted MDC directors for initially failing to depend Segarra’s loss of life as COVID-related in its twice-weekly studies.

Now that vaccines can be found, a return to some semblance of normalcy could possibly be on the horizon for the nation. A BOP spokesman mentioned that all the company’s amenities now have first doses readily available, however declined to say how many individuals have been vaccinated at MCC. A query for newly confirmed Lawyer Basic Merrick Garland and for Congress, now managed by Democrats, is whether or not the brand new regular might be as callous because the outdated.

The Bureau of Prisons is a part of the Justice Division and topic to oversight by Congress, which units its funds and writes the legal guidelines it’s alleged to comply with. However the company’s wardens and correction officers make much less noise within the information than, for instance, their friends within the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And when BOP crises do flare up, as within the winter of 2019 when MDC in Brooklyn misplaced warmth and energy and locked out the general public for per week, the company can appear resistant to accountability, even when legislators and judges are clamoring for it.

Many longtime observers of the BOP say they aren’t optimistic that something will change, partly as a result of the Justice Division, which ostensibly oversees the BOP, can be answerable for defending the company towards lawsuits such because the one introduced by Mr. Grant’s household.

“Of any company I’ve ever been concerned with, the BOP is essentially the most impervious to any kind of actual oversight or accountability,” mentioned David Patton, government director of the Federal Defenders of New York for the Japanese and Southern Districts. “As a result of the people who find themselves charged with doing it are their coworkers throughout the Division of Justice. It’s actually the definition of the fox guarding the henhouse.”

The individuals most immediately answerable for BOP oversight wouldn’t converse to us for this story. The places of work of Garland and California Rep. Karen Bass, who heads the congressional Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Safety, a subsidiary of the Home Judiciary Committee, didn’t reply to interview requests. A spokesman for New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, mentioned he wasn’t obtainable to talk earlier than our deadline.




Roberto Grant's mother Crecita Williams stands by his tombstone.

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Roberto Grant’s mom Crecita Williams stands by his tombstone.


Scott Heins / Gothamist

Born in Brooklyn to oldsters who quickly separated, Roberto Grant was the second oldest of six youngsters. He grew up going backwards and forwards to Panama, the place his father lived. Grant’s mom and Roberto Sr. remained on good phrases, and within the winter of 1989, she was planning to reunite the household by shifting to Panama completely. Grant was set to fly there for Christmas when phrase got here that the U.S. had invaded to depose Panama’s ruler, Manuel Noriega. Roberto Grant Sr., by then a Panamanian army officer, died within the preventing.

Roberto Jr. stayed together with his mom, Crecita Williams, rising up first in Crown Heights, then in Brownsville. As a teen, Grant performed basketball and cherished displaying off, taking part in pranks, and performing his personal model of avenue gymnastics.

“He was well-known at flipping,” Williams mentioned. “He may flip down the entire block, like three blocks. Flip off a roof, off a constructing, off a automobile.”

As Grant bought older, he informed a federal decide in January 2015, he began “hanging with the flawed crowd.”

By the point he gave his closing assertion to the courtroom, Grant had spent all however a couple of years of his grownup life in jail. Launched from state custody in 2012 for a theft he had dedicated at 23, Grant bought again collectively together with his ex-wife, Nicole Morrison, whom he’d recognized since they each attended P.S. 316 in Brooklyn. The pair moved to Silver Spring, Maryland for what Grant referred to as “a brand new begin,” and shortly thereafter they’d twins. Grant bought a job cleansing places of work, solely to lose it inside a number of months. Then, beginning in the summertime of 2013, Grant and some associates set out on a string of thefts up and down the East Coast.

These robberies, whereas audacious, weren’t the stuff of Ocean’s Eleven. In every, the boys hit jewellery shops whereas they have been open: strolling in, smashing show circumstances with hammers, and operating out with handfuls of high-end watches. Throughout one raid in New Jersey, a retailer proprietor shot at them. Throughout one other, in Richmond, Virginia a member of Grant’s crew used a stun-gun on a retailer employee and knocked her out, in keeping with prosecutors.

The spree culminated in a brazen January 2014 smash-and-grab on the flagship Cartier watch retailer in midtown Manhattan that netted the boys $700,000 value of watches. Utilizing info from the feds, NYPD cops pulled Grant and codefendant Allen Williams over in Brooklyn that evening. They have been each sporting Cartier timepieces sizzling off the cabinets, prosecutors mentioned.

Nicole Morrison says she believes Grant was impatient to create a snug life for his new household.

“I believe that’s quite a lot of what Roberto handled, feeling as if he needed to catch up or make up for what was misplaced whereas he was in jail,” she informed Gothamist/WNYC. . “And when one thinks like that, it could possibly take you down a distinct highway. When he got here house, when he tried to do one thing outdoors of what he knew and it didn’t work, he simply resorted again to the place he was comfy. “

Grant spent 2014 in federal custody at MCC. Late that summer time, Grant pleaded responsible to at least one depend of conspiracy to commit theft. In January 2015, he appeared earlier than Choose Robert Patterson. “I needed to assist my household,” Grant informed the decide, attributing his crimes to his job loss “I went about it the flawed method. I take full accountability for my actions. I simply need an opportunity, one other likelihood, to show that this isn’t my life anymore.” His lawyer requested for a 10-year sentence. Prosecutors referred to as for 12-and-a-half to-15.

Patterson died of most cancers in April 2015, earlier than making a call. Grant remained at MCC, ready to look earlier than a brand new decide for sentencing. That day in courtroom by no means got here.




The Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan

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MADELEINE CRENSHAW / GOTHAMIST


MADELEINE CRENSHAW / GOTHAMIST

Grant’s case echoes the a lot higher-profile loss of life of Jeffrey Epstein in MCC in August 2019. Certainly, in keeping with Laufer, one of many BOP investigators initially assigned to Grant’s case additionally labored on the Epstein loss of life earlier than the Federal Bureau of Investigation took over. In Epstein’s case, probers discovered that two guards assigned to observe Epstein, who have been topic to the identical necessities that they make rounds each half hour, as an alternative shopped on-line, napped, and by no means entered his space throughout their in a single day shift.

As with Epstein, the FBI appears to have taken over the investigation into Grant’s loss of life. Responding to a public information request searching for paperwork from an inquiry into the matter, the FBI mentioned it had recognized over 700 pages of doubtless related materials. The most recent estimate for when it’ll flip something over is November 2022. The FBI press workplace didn’t reply to inquiries about this.

Not like Grant, who was typically inhabitants, Epstein was assigned to solitary confinement in MCC’s Particular Housing Unit after coming off of suicide watch. And in contrast to Grant’s captors, who’ve up to now averted any public accounting, the feds arrested the guards who have been supposed to observe Epstein inside months for his or her alleged negligence. The ability is now on its fourth warden since Epstein’s loss of life.

If MCC directors discovered something from Grant’s demise, they aren’t saying.

“For security and safety causes we don’t focus on inner safety procedures,” BOP spokesman Scott Taylor mentioned when requested whether or not MCC has modified protocol because the incident.

Taylor additionally declined to debate the specifics of Grant’s case, citing, “security, safety, and privateness causes,” and saying, “The official explanation for loss of life is set by the medical expert and never the Bureau of Prisons.”

Grant’s household alleges that Michael Kearins, an MCC guard who has since retired, repeatedly threatened Grant and accused him of utilizing K2 within the months main as much as his loss of life. Kearins referred to as this reporter again late on a Saturday evening, then declined to remark.

“Yeah, I can’t speak about none of that,” he mentioned.

Laufer and attorneys for the BOP are wrapping up interviews of one another’s specialists. If the BOP and Grant’s household don’t settle, the case may go to trial later this yr.

“I personally need to sue, not for the cash, as a result of it can’t carry my son again, however for this to point out them to by no means let this occur once more,” mentioned Williams, who works in a college cafeteria. “Cash can’t carry him again. It solely brings me to the cemetery as usually as I can.”

Grant’s twin daughters are actually seven. No matter occurs with the case, Williams plans so as to add a bench to her son’s funeral plot, and a tree.

“I need the tree to be the identical age as the ladies so it could possibly develop up with them,” she mentioned, “and him.”

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