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Texas prison guards put inmate into potentially permanent coma

A guard looks on near the wall of a prison unit in Huntsville, Texas.
Richard Carson
A guard looks on near the wall of a prison unit in Huntsville, Texas.

Kiheem Grant attacked a guard, according to prison officials and was subsequently beaten so bad he has yet to wake up. His mother wants to know why. Thirteen were fired or resigned in the aftermath.

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Loretta Grant hadn’t seen her son Kiheem in 22 years when she walked into his East Texas hospital room last month. The quiet face of the boy who stopped living with her at age 16 was now replaced with that of a man.

His face was familiar, she said, despite resting below the damage to his skull she could feel with her hands. That damage, according to a state report, was inflicted by Texas prison guards, and it may leave him in a coma for the rest of his life.

“I felt his head and he had a scar. It was hard. The doctor told me he was beaten with a blunt instrument,” Grant said.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice declined to provide any update on the man’s physical condition or confirm his name, citing an investigation and the privacy law HIPAA.

“TDCJ does not comment on pending investigations. However, any individuals found to have violated policy or the law will be held accountable,” said Amanda Hernandez, TDCJ director of communications.

Grant, 48, stabbed a guard at Coffield Unit on Sept. 5, according to an Office of the Inspector General report. Grant has been housed at the northeast Texas prison in solitary confinement for several years.

A responding “extraction team” — or group of guards in full riot gear — attempted to remove Grant from his cell. Ultimately, Grant would only be removed limp and nearly lifeless after repeated blows to the head, according to a witness. He has been in a coma ever since.

The guard who was stabbed was treated and released from a hospital and has been recovering at home.

The violent incident saw seven guards fired, six resign, and the state said they used “excessive force.”

Grant’s mother described the damaged body that used to be her son. A feeding tube wraps around his legs, and she saw dark rings around each wrist where his handcuffs had been.

“I guess they had the handcuffs on so tight that it was into his skin because you can see the pink part of his skin,” she said. “I put Vaseline on both his wrists, and there was a dark circle where the handcuffs were.”

These were the first details released publicly regarding Grant’s condition. It was also the first time he was publicly identified as the inmate victim in the assault that resulted in the termination or resignation of 13 prison officials.

 Two hours east of Waco, TDCJ's Coffield Unit sits among green pastures and rural roads.
Paul Flahive
Two hours east of Waco, TDCJ's Coffield Unit sits among green pastures and rural roads.

Grant’s mother said Warden Juaquine Pope called her two days after the incident at 10 p.m. but he gave her little information. She was told her son was involved in an incident and was now hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit.

“They didn't tell me what had happened. I was trying to find out what was going on — you know what happened,” she said.

But she said she has continued to be stonewalled on what transpired and given “the runaround” on medical records she requested, despite having Kiheem’s power of attorney.

After traveling to UT Health East Texas hospital in Tyler — the second of three hospitals her son would be treated at — Grant said she was shocked to find her son in a coma. Doctors warned her it might be permanent.

He suffered multiple blunt force traumas, which caused massive bleeding on his brain. “The force resulted in hospitalization of the inmate with head and face injuries,” said a state report.

In addition to the terminations and resignations, at least one guard was investigated for aggravated assault by a public servant — a crime that can carry a life sentence.

Abayomi Ipoola — a guard recently promoted to sergeant — was the sole suspect listed on the state report. It listed 32 witnesses, of which 20 are guards and 12 are inmates.

It’s unclear if more than one guard was investigated, but one detail given to Grant differed dramatically from the report TPR obtained.

“[TDCJ said] they're going to be charged with attempted murder, but of course, if he should die, they will be charged with murder,” Grant said, describing her conversation with a prison official.

Grant was initially given a 25% chance of surviving in the immediate aftermath, she said, having oxygen pumped into his lungs. He was able to come off of the ventilator, his mother said.

His brain damage left him at times unconsciously moving, jerking and sitting up.

“When we were there, he was squeezing my hand, my daughter’s hand and my brother’s hand. He was turning his head from side to side,” she said.

Kiheem Grant had been in prison for nearly 20 years for an aggravated robbery and murder he committed in Beaumont.

He was already unlikely to be released from Texas prisons because he assaulted a guard at another prison, and 40 years were added to his 99, according to the TDCJ website.

During the trial for his aggravated robbery, 19 years ago, Grant attacked a witness in front of the jury. Now he may spend the rest of his life in a prison hospital bed unaware of the world around him.

 Kiheem Grant at age 19
Courtesy Loretta Grant
Kiheem Grant at age 19

His fate is just one more tragedy in Grant’s life. Kiheem’s father was taken by violence when he was a child, forcing Grant to raise her children alone in Harlem. One of her daughters, she said, was killed by her husband.

She thought Kiheem, reserved and energetic, would escape a tragic fate. Ultimately though, he became ungovernable.

“He used to run away a lot. And when he joined that gang of Bloods and whatnot, he just went crazy,” she said.

Grant was unclear on how her son got to Texas, but when he was incarcerated the two began corresponding regularly.

She wasn’t sure what happened on the night of Sept. 5 to leave him unable to speak, see, or respond, but she continued to question the official statements of TDCJ about her son instigating an attack.

Now Grant is searching for answers on what happened, who is responsible, and what happens next.

She said TDCJ is “100% responsible” for what happened to Kiheem, and she may file a suit against it. She also hoped to file for compassionate release so he can live out the rest of his life in a hospital near her in New York.

For now, her most pressing to do item is asking TDCJ to let her see her son again at the prison hospital in Galveston next month. It will be his 49th birthday.

"I would really like to see these criminals you know get punished, put in jail," she added. "You know they're walking around. Whether they work or not, they still walking around probably getting a paycheck and my son ended up in the hospital damn near dead."

Copyright 2023 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

Paul Flahive is the technology and entrepreneurship reporter for Texas Public Radio. He has worked in public media across the country, from Iowa City and Chicago to Anchorage and San Antonio.