Javarick Gantt, a deaf man found unresponsive last month in the Baltimore jail, was strangled to death by his cellmate, according to police.
On Friday, officials announced the arrest of Gordon Staron, 33, who was booked into the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center in September. He is being held without bail on first-degree murder and other charges in a deadly Sept. 6 stabbing on East Monument Street.
Now, he’s accused of strangling Gantt inside their shared cell. Gantt, who relied on sign language to communicate, was found unresponsive around 6:30 a.m. Oct. 9 and later pronounced dead.
Gantt had been jailed since July while his cases crawled through a backlogged court system. His charges stemmed from a 2019 domestic dispute in which no one was seriously injured. But largely because he missed court dates and probation check-ins, he was ordered held without bail and remained behind bars awaiting a late October trial date.
He and Staron had been locked in their cell together since about 7:20 p.m. the night before, according to charging documents. No one else entered or exited the cell during that time.
“Witnesses on B dorm reported hearing deaf-mute Detainee Gantt making noises and banging on his cell door” between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m., detectives wrote.
Advocates strongly condemned the fact that Gantt, a disabled man facing relatively minor charges, was being housed with a first-degree murder suspect.
“This indicates a profoundly egregious mistake by the jail,” said Corene Kendrick, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed in the 1990s over treatment of people with disabilities in Central Booking. “There were major breakdowns in what should have happened here.”
Kendrick said it’s especially concerning that jail staff failed to respond to Gantt’s cries for help that night.
She said Gantt should have been given a housing assignment based on several factors, including his size and vulnerability.
Gantt was just over 5 feet tall and about 105 pounds. Sign language was his first language; his reading and writing skills were limited.
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Loved ones have said he was frequently the target of bullies.
Kiera Mayhew, his close friend and former roommate, told The Baltimore Sun that Gantt expressed safety concerns about his cellmate in the weeks before he was killed, saying he would prefer to be housed alone.
Officials with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which runs the jail, have declined to comment on Gantt’s housing assignment. Detectives with the state agency investigated the homicide.
In general, detainees with disabilities are given a housing assignment based on several factors, including safety concerns, said agency spokesman Mark Vernarelli.
“Also, where possible, the detainee’s own preferences are considered,” he said. “Some prefer to be housed in general population areas; others are given special accommodations.”
It remains unclear exactly how many days Gantt shared a cell with Staron, who was arrested Sept. 8 — two days after Keith Bell, 63, was found suffering from stab wounds in the 1400 block of East Monument Street.
Staron now faces an additional first-degree murder charge in Gantt’s death.