Willimantic, Connecticut – A White healthcare professional was found dead inside a halfway house for sex offenders last month, where she was scheduled for work. For the crime, law enforcement arrested a Black registered sex offender and career criminal believed to be responsible for one of the worst murders police have investigated in the past 27 years.
On October 28, 63-year-old Joyce Grayson, a White behavioral health nurse from Connecticut, was found dead in a halfway house for sex offenders where she was scheduled to conduct her first in-house appointment that morning.
Concerned family members called Police around 2 p.m. to perform a welfare check on the visiting nurse after learning she had missed several appointments. At the scene, officers apprehended a suspect, later identified as Michael Carlos Reese, attempting to flee the house through the back door before discovering Grayson’s body in the basement of the home. He was arrested in charges unrelated to her death, per reports.
Willimantic Police Chief Paul Hussey released a statement, calling the case “deeply troubling” and “one of the worst cases I have in 27 years in law enforcement.”
Reese, 38, a registered sex offender “with violent tendencies,” was living at the halfway house as part of a Re-Entry Assisted Community Housing (REACH) location designed to reintegrate sex offenders into society and run by ‘The Connection,” a community housing program headquartered in Middletown. It is unclear at this time if Grayson knew she was visiting a halfway house.
The suspect appeared in court Wednesday on a violation of probation charge and has a criminal history stretching back to a 2006 sexual assault and near-fatal stabbing of a 39-year-old woman in New Haven for which he was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The sentence was suspended, however, after Reese served 17 years and was released in April 2021 with ten years of probation. This sentence, too, was revoked in January of this year by a judge after Reese violated that probation in March 2022 for failure to comply with treatment and substance abuse and was subsequently sentenced to six years in prison before it was once again suspended after six months with nine years’ probation.
Reese was once again released from prison in March 2023 and entered a residential treatment program for “high-risk individuals convicted of sexual offenses” before transiting to the halfway house in Willimantic after completing the program in August, where Grayson’s ill-fated visit took place.
He was scheduled to appear in court last Monday, but officials deemed his mental health needs and safety risk others too high. Reese has been charged with larceny, violating probation, and possession of drug paraphernalia and is currently held at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center.
He has yet to be charged with Grayson’s murder.
The tragic case of Joyce Grayson has ignited conversation for healthcare providers across Connecticut in reevaluating how home visits are handled, with one agency revisiting its long-disregarded union contract requiring nurses to be escorted to potentially dangerous homes, according to state senator and visiting nurse Martha Marx (D-New London).
Furthermore, despite safety guidelines being redistributed in the wake of Grayson’s death by Tracy Wodatch, head of the statewide association that supports 80 home health agencies in Connecticut, Marx noted that most agencies do not have written safety protocols.
Sharon Horowitz, spokesperson for a New York public relations firm representing Elara Caring – “one of the nation’s largest providers of home-based care,” where Grayson was employed for 15 years – did not respond to requests by Hearst Connecticut Media Group for the company’s safety protocol but released the following statement in an email regarding Grayson’s death:
“We are devastated to learn of the loss of a beloved nurse, Joyce Grayson, who was with Elara Caring for 15 years. Our hearts go out to Joyce’s family and loved ones. The safety and wellbeing of our team members is our highest priority. We are providing counseling services for Elara team members impacted by this tragedy and will be fully cooperating with the authorities as their investigation continues.”
The family of the slain nurse is pursuing a wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit through the Reardon Law Firm, given possible significant oversights in the events that led up to her death.
“It was apparent from the beginning that they felt that this death could have been prevented, and while I can’t get into any details about what our investigation has revealed so far. It’s clear to me that there are a variety of things that could have been done by different entities and agencies that would have resulted in a different outcome here,” said attorney Kelly Reardon.
Lawmakers and advocates are calling for enhanced safety measures for nurses entering patients’ homes, a vastly underreported work environment where roughly 15% of visiting healthcare professionals experience physical abuse each year, with nearly half experiencing verbal abuse. Among the suggested reforms is requiring an escort to accompany nurses in high-risk situations.
“Every day you leave your home, you’re not sure if you’re going to go home if you’re going to get attacked,” Grayson’s colleague Merlyn Dunbar told Fox affiliate WTIC. “We take a risk every day when we go into someone’s home.”
Like many states across the country, even Connecticut, which ranks among the best states for healthcare, has been experiencing a nursing shortage crisis for years. A study published by the Journal of Clinical and Translational Research revealed that a staggering 74% of workplace violence took place in a healthcare setting in 2017, with 1.4% of total homicide in the U.S. reportedly related to WPC in the healthcare system.
According to state representative Rosa DeLauro, more than 610,000 nurses intend to leave the profession by 2027. The Connecticut Hospital Association reports that at least five healthcare workers are assaulted daily in hospitals within the state as part of a growing current of violence against health professionals. Connecticut is no exception to the ever-daunting demographic transformation gripping the rest of the nation at an accelerating rate.
According to USA Facts, the White population of the Constitution State stood at 63.9 percent in 2022, down from 71.4 percent in 2010, while the Hispanic population jumped from 4.7 percent to 18.2 percent. The city of Willimantic attracted waves of Irish, Italian, Polish, German, and French-Canadian immigrants in search of mill jobs throughout the 19th century. Beginning in 1955, the influx of mainly Puerto Rican immigrants hired by factory managers in Willimantic as cheap labor has propelled the Hispanic population to 46.6 percent in Willimantic while “White alone” falls just behind at 44 percent.
In 2020, about 70 percent of the school population in the city is of Hispanic heritage.
The language barriers and in-group preference resulting from racial diversity have led to increased demands by immigration advocacy organizations such as Make the Road Connecticut for health care services to better accommodate non-English speaking communities through multicultural sensitivity training, hiring professional language interpreters, and automatic financial assistance screenings.
Around the same time as Grayson’s death, another nurse died after reportedly sustaining injuries from a patient at the East Tennessee Behavior Health Center in Knoxville. Dr. Benjamin Mauck, a well-respected surgeon at the Campbell Clinic Orthopedics, also located in Tennessee, was shot and killed in an examination room by an irate patient earlier this year. In Rhode Island, a male nurse was attacked by a patient in a psychiatric unit in September, leaving him with critical injuries.
Joyce Grayson was described in her obituary as “a beautiful soul who dedicated her life to caring for others. She loved her job as a mental health nurse, and it was truly what she was put on this earth to do. She passed away doing what she loved.” She was a mother of six and a grandmother of four who also served as a foster parent for the State Department of Children and Families for twenty years, even awarded Foster Parent of the Year in 2017.
A ‘GoFundMe’ fundraiser has been organized by a family friend to support the Grayson family and their needs.
White healthcare workers and those who volunteer their time as caregivers have increasingly faced acts of horrific non-White violence. In April, an “‘irreplaceable” social worker in Vermont was killed in what was called a “targeted attack.” The suspect in that crime was a Black vagrant who allegedly used a hand axe as a murder weapon. In 2022, a White homeless shelter worker was brutally maimed by a Black man with a pair of swords. The victim, Jon Romano, would later demand hate crime charges after feeling ignored by prosecutors in charge of the case.
Have a story? Please forward any tips or leads to the editors at [email protected]