NOTE: I have corrected use of the word “op-ed, and have replaced it with “editorial.” Also, I realize that editorials issued by a newspaper as a whole – that take the position of the newspaper’s editorial board, as this one apparently does – are often written without a byline for an actual human being. However, I believe that this practice is antiquated and just plain wrong. – Katie
UPDATE: As of late morning on Friday, June 10 – about 12 hours after the piece was originally published – the News Sentinel has now added a byline to the editorial. It reads, “News Sentinel Editorial Board,” and the byline links to this page. Currently, there is no note published with the editorial making mention of this edit.- Katie
UPDATE: Afternoon – June 10, 2011 - Knoxville News Sentinel Editorial Page Coordinator Scott Barker has taken the time to personally respond to my critique of today’s editorial about Henry’s case. which I appreciate. That conversation is happening over at KnoxViews. – Katie
Cross-posted at the Justice for Henry blog
The Knoxville News Sentinel has just published an anonymous (no byline) editorial about….well, I’m not really sure what it’s about beyond the fact that every time they publish anything about my son’s death they get a lot of traffic and comments.
I would be thrilled if the local newspaper decided to do a thorough, unbiased and well-researched investigative story on my son’s case, and on the way Knox County authorities handle overdose deaths in general. But that hasn’t happened yet.
Having said that, here is my response: (newspaper content in bold, with my responses in italics)
Editorial: Grief leads to lawsuit over Granju’s death
The lawsuit I have filed was not motivated by grief. It was motivated by a desire to see justice in my son’s homicide, and in all of the other unsolved drug-induced homicides in Knoxville and Knox County, and also to raise awareness of the prescription drug overdose epidemic currently ravaging this community. Additionally, over the past year, and with the help of a private investigator, national journalists and others, I have accumulated a large body of actionable information and evidence regarding the fact that two specific individuals knowingly distributed a large dose of an illegal drug to my 18 year old son, and then took him home to their house trailer in a remote area of Knox County, where over a period of many hours, they watched him develop extreme symptoms of physical distress. During those hours, at least five people told them they needed to call 911 immediately, yet they repeatedly refused. They only called for help when finally threatened with police involvement if they didn’t dial 911. By that time, my son had suffered an ultimately fatal brain injury. The actions of these individuals violate state and federal criminal statutes, and also violate our common law standards for acceptable behavior. Thus, I have filed a lawsuit.
A mother’s grief over the death of a child knows no bounds.
That’s certainly true. I am very sad that my son is dead.
Katie Granju, a noted blogger and author of parenting books,
I am actually the author of one “parenting book,” published 13 years ago. Since then, I’ve published a wide variety of other material on many topics, including local news, national politics, pop culture, women’s issues, and more. I have also worked full time in digital content and social media with several major media corporations since the late 1990s. Thus, I am not sure that mentioning the single parenting book I wrote in 1998 is really the only relevant (or even the most relevant) descriptor for me or my work history. But whatever…
filed a lawsuit last week alleging a South Knox County couple and a local methadone clinic are responsible for the overdose death of her 18-year-old son. Granju has been blogging about what she perceives as an insufficient criminal investigation into her son’s death, attracting readers from around the world. She’s also gone on national television to air her dissatisfaction with local authorities.
Granju certainly has a right to file a civil lawsuit,
Thanks for the affirmation on that…
and perhaps it will be the only way to publicly delve into the sometimes confusing circumstances surrounding Henry Granju‘s death last year.
No, it won’t be. There are numerous state and federal law enforcement agencies beyond the Knox County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office which frequently investigate and successfully prosecute drug-induced homicide cases.
Her accusations that the criminal investigation has been bungled, however, might be misplaced.
I’d really like to have the opportunity to debate that specific point – that my accusations “might be misplaced,” fact for fact (with supporting documentation of course) with whomever it is who actually wrote this editorial. If the person who wrote this happens to read this blog post and would like to sit down with me anytime and look at medical records, phone records, texts, and interview transcripts, as well as listen to tape recordings of interviews with witnesses and sources, I’d be happy to do that. But the first question I’d ask this anonymous editorial writer is whether a criminal investigation in which investigator assigned to the case never once laid eyes on the victim in the 5 weeks he remained alive, and has never one time met with or spoken in person to the victim’s family can possibly be a truly thorough investigation.
Henry Granju, who had been battling drugs for years,
That’s quite a spin. Not inaccurate, exactly, but definitely a spin. Yes, my 18 year old son first tried marijuana at 14, that’s true. Although it isn’t a pleasant or easy this to discuss, our family has been and will continue to be as open about Henry’s struggle with drug addiction as we can be, in hopes that our willingness to share openly might help other families. We even made the conscious (and we understand, somewhat unusual) decision to explicitly mention Henry’s struggle with addiction in the eulogy delivered by Henry’s Dad at his memorial service, and in Henry’s published obituary.
But to say that my teenager had been “battling drugs for years” makes it sound like he was a hardened criminal, and that he was primarily defined by drug abuse “for years.” He wasn’t. Henry had no juvenile record, and no criminal record beyond one arrest for possession a few weeks before his hospitalization. Henry was a teenager, a student, a prankster, a friend, a musician, a big brother, a son, grandson and cousin, a nephew, a writer, and a really sweet and funny, extremely clever and genuinely kind human being. Plus, he was only 18 years old (!!!). He was, by class progression, only a senior in high school (although he took the initiative to study and earn his high school diploma 6 months early). He hadn’t had a chance to do ANYTHING ”for years” yet.
This is our Henry, during the same period the editorial writer describes him as having been “battling drugs for years”
Again, in no way is our family denying that Henry was struggling mightily with drug addiction at the time he was killed. In fact, I am not sure how much more ***voluntarily*** and starkly honest we could have possibly been on this point than we have been. But when the sole descriptor used for my son in that editorial was the one that was used, it makes it sound like drug use defined everything about Henry for his entire adolescence, including his worth as a human being, and that his own struggle with addiction somehow obviates or mitigates any crimes that were committed against him. And that’s not true.
died May 31, 2010, at the University of Tennessee Medical Center more than a month after he’d been found unresponsive in the home of the couple named in the lawsuit. Knox County Medical Examiner Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan’s autopsy showed he died as a result of an overdose that caused his brain to deteriorate. Opiates, cocaine and marijuana residues were found in his system when he was taken to the emergency room April 27, 2010.
That’s not correct. No opiates were found in my son’s system on April 27, 2010 because no toxicology scan that even tested for opiates was conducted on my son at hospital admission. Having said that, Henry certainly did have opiates in his system on that day because that’s the category of drug that caused the hypoxic brain injury that killed him five weeks later. However we know that from clinical observations by physicians, as well as characteristic opiate-related brain damage. We do not know that due to any toxicology report finding opiates “in his system” on April 27, 2010. And FYI, this lack of a thorough toxicology report having been ordered by the investigating law enforcement agency is part of how my son’s case was “bungled,” as the News Sentinel editorial writer has phrased it.
While Henry Granju was in the hospital, Katie Granju began blogging about his plight.
Yes, I blogged at the time over five torturous weeks about how my beloved son was hospitalized in a coma at first, and then in very serious condition and likely to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, and then about how he took a turn for the worse in that last week, and then about how he died in our arms. If that’s the “plight” to which the editorial writer is referring, then yes, that’s accurate. (start here if you would like to read those blog posts I wrote during Henry’s hospitalization)
Initially, she alleged her son had been beaten with a tire iron prior to his overdose,
I absolutely, 100% STILL “allege” that my son was beaten in the late afternoon/early evening of April 25, 2010 with some kind of weapon that he identified to at least 10 people with whom he spoke in the 6 hours immediately following the attack as a “tire iron.” Although only a couple of these people with whom Henry spoke were ever interviewed by KCSO, all of them told the investigator the same thing, but he then told each of them that Henry had lied, and that there was no weapon used. He argued with the witnesses he was supposed to be interviewing.
and investigators interviewed the assailants.
That’s correct. An investigator apparently interviewed all three assailants who FULLY ADMITTED beating my son up in the late afternoon/early evening of April 25, 2010. But surprise, surprise, each of the three guys said that it was one of the others who actually hit Henry, and here’s another real shocker…..they said that no weapon was used in the attack they admitted committing. Do you think maybe any of these three suspects knew that if a weapon of any kind had been involved, that the assault charges could be elevated significantly? I wonder….
Speaking of weapons, if the Knox County Sheriff’s Office had ever bothered to take a look at the numerous text messages that remain on my son’s cell phone to this day, they would have seen the lengthy exchange between Henry and one of the three admitted assailants that took place in the first hours immediately following the assault, in which this guy clearly states that a GUN was involved, and clarifies who actually participated in the physical assault. Perhaps these texts could have assisted KCSO in figuring out what really happened. (verbatim cut and paste of texts to Henry):
Text 1: RE: I told u just b4 that that I havent known these kids long. They made me get out right after that at my truck…like 4 real those kids are bitches man i
Text 2: wouldn’t have done u like that. Ur my boys these kids are trashy fuckn thugs. Dude I’m sorry
Text 3: 01/03: RE: How is that on me they took the only money I had 5 dollars I barely made it home. Dude I will not fuck with those kids anymore. That was bullshit
Text 4: don’t be mad at me the fucked me over too. I wold not have let them do u like that but I couldn’t beat them both and the guy that was driving had a gun Isaw it at his feet
However, the autopsy showed no signs of severe trauma, and no charges have been filed.
That is correct. Weeks after my son was beat up (which happened the day before the overdose), an autopsy was conducted, and despite the extensively documented physical assault-related injuries noted in my son’s medical records from his lengthy hospitalization before he died, the Knox County Medical Examiner said that no evidence of those injuries remained all those weeks later. I don’t know whether that’s accurate or not on the part of the ME, but I do know that the numerous specialists at the University of Tennessee Medical Center who treated Henry’s physical injuries were never interviewed by anyone from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, or anyone from the Office of the Knox County Medical Examiner. That’s a fact. And I also know that even though the physical injuries Henry had at hospital admission weren’t what ultimately caused his death over one month later, they should still REALLY MATTER to law enforcement charged with investigating the series of events that landed Henry in intensive care, in a coma on April 27, 2010.
Katie Granju’s blog posts have become increasingly critical of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, which is the investigative agency, and the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office. A portion of her criticisms have been aimed at coverage in the News Sentinel as well,
Absent a confession or an eyewitness, a criminal case against the people who provided Henry Granju with the lethal dose of drugs would be difficult to prove.
That’s absurd. It really is. Is this editorial writer saying that criminal cases can only be developed successfully if law enforcement locates an “eyewitness” or obtains a “confession” from the suspect? Do rape cases require an eyewitness to the crime or a confession by the suspect in order to make arrests, bring charges and prosecute? How often do bank robbers confess? When someone embezzles from a company, is it necessary that they were directly observed altering the company’s books for law enforcement to develop a case successfully? When drug dealers are arrested, is there always an actual eyewitness to sales, or a confession by the dealer before arrests are possible? What about when someone is gunned down in a home invasion and killed? No eyewitness, no confession, no case?
Seriously, this assertion that an eyewitness (to what, exactly?) or an actual confession by a suspect is necessary to successfully make arrests and prosecutions in drug-induced homicide cases like Henry’s is absolute nonsense. Tennessee’s Second Degree Homicide statute offers local law enforcement a powerful tool to get drug dealers who kill out of this community, if only Knox County authorities would USE IT. Just take a look at a few dozen of the recent drug-induced homicide cases with arrests and prosecutions from other jurisdictions around the country to see how it’s done.
But Katie Granju has publicly stated that the Sheriff’s Office has not pursued specific pieces of evidence or interviewed key witnesses.
This is absolutely correct. The private investigator now helping me on a pro bono basis, and I myself have interviewed (on tape) numerous witnesses who have yet to be contacted by KCSO. Several examples of these un-interviewed and important witnesses are mentioned in this national news article about the obvious mishandling of Henry’s case by Knox County authorities, and another un-interviewed witness is the young woman who begged the suspects to call 911 for Henry. When they continued to refuse, she threatened to call the Knoxville Police Department and tell them what was going on unless the suspects called 911 for Henry within the next few minutes. That’s the only reason these people eventually, after many hours, called for an ambulance for my son. But of course, by that time, it was too late. His brain had been deprived of oxygen for too long. This witness is obviously CRITICAL, and she’s never been interviewed by anyone from the Sheriff’s Office, despite me repeatedly pleading with the DA’s office that they speak to her. Additionally, KCSO has never examined my son’s actual cell phone or the text messages that remained on it, nor did they preserve blood evidence at the hospital. Hell, they never even laid eyes on HENRY HIMSELF. Additionally, no one in our family – not me, not Henry’s father, NO ONE – has ever once met anyone from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office in person, and they have not even called us one time since the day after Henry died on May 31, 2010.
Authorities have not closed Henry Granju’s case, however, and Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Martha Dooley has said investigators are looking into the narcotics allegations.
Investigators might be using methods unknown to Katie Granju, and likely are reluctant to divulge details of the probe to her out of fear she would make them public as she has in the past.
I would like the anonymous editorial writer who wrote this to specifically reference what details of KCSO’s investigation that I have “made public” in the past. This is a completely unfounded allegation, and I believe the journalist making it should A: sign his name to what he’s written, and B: back up this allegation.
In fact, I only began speaking publicly about any specific details of the (lack of) investigation into my son’s case at the beginning of March of this year, 10 months after my son’s death, and when it became totally clear to our whole family that unless we finally came forward publicly, we had NO hope of anyone in any law enforcement agency understanding what had happened with the handling of Henry’s case. Prior to that time, I had expressed some general frustration with the lack of progress in my son’s case, but at NO TIME did I ever “divulge details of the probe.” In fact, how could I divulge any “details of the probe,” when I have never one single time ever spoken in person to anyone from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. Thus the “details” I have divulged since speaking out publicly for the first time 10 weeks ago were about the LACK of a probe. Clearly, however, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and the Office of Knox County District Attorney Randy Nichols do not like it one bit when taxpayers – and particularly the families of crime victims – raise any type of public concern regarding the quality of their work.
Also, did this editorial writer ever consider the possibility that what I am saying about the way this case has been handled by KCSO is accurate? The entire premise of this op-ed seems to be that I am making unfounded, baseless and irresponsible allegations against law enforcement.
Still, the lawsuit could contribute to the pursuit of justice, and a mother’s desire for visible progress is understandable.
In the wrongful death lawsuit, Katie Granju alleges Yolanda Harper and her boyfriend, Randall Houser, provided her son with a lethal dose of methadone they obtained legally from DRD Medical, a Knoxville methadone clinic.
Actually, if it turns out that these defendants were methadone clinic-shopping, lying to clinic personnel, falsifying identification, etc, etc, then they would not be legally obtaining the methadone, nor would the clinic be legally dispensing it should it be the case that personnel were not following regulations regarding doling out this uniquely dangerous street drug, which, by the way, is now the #1 drug found on the death certificates in fatal overdose cases in the state of Tennessee.
She also alleges Harper and Houser waited six hours while her son suffered before summoning an ambulance to their home on Tarklin Valley Road. With the results of the criminal probe uncertain at this point, the civil case might be the only opportunity for an exploration of the circumstances of Henry Granju’s death in a public forum.
I disagree. I firmly believe that there will be arrests and criminal prosecutions in the drug-induced homicide of my son. If Knox County authorities won’t step up and do their duty, then authorities with higher jurisdictional authority will. I trust in our system, and believe that right will prevail.