New York state correction officials are scrambling to explain the indignity perpetrated on an innocent man — exonerated of a violent crime — who is now simply just trying to inspire those he left behind in prison.
Carlton Roman vowed he would never forget those who stood by him at Green Haven prison in Stormville, New York, as the 59 year-old battled to clear his name. It took nearly 32 years, but in August 2021, Roman walked out of Queens Criminal Court a free man after being exonerated of a 1989 double shooting at a Jamaica, Queens, house.
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz herself apologized for the injustice caused by the judicial system in the case that went wrong.
Roman, who served most of his time at Greenhaven, went back in November to visit. There were no issues at that time.
”It was great. I knew civilians and officers, everything went smoothly as silk," Roman told NBC New York.
In December, Roman said that he returned with care packages.
"I wanted to go and do that again, to let people know there’s hope for people who shouldn’t be here, like here I am," he said. "Keep fighting and to believe in good over evil. That’s essentially what it comes down to for me."
But things did not go as planned. Roman claims a sergeant stepped in to deny his visit — a humiliation he is is still processing.
"He’s like, Roman you can’t go in," he said, adding that it was because he didn't have proof of his exoneration.
"He’s actually asking me if I had paperwork. I’m like, nobody goes around with paperwork," Roman said. "You expect me to come in with paperwork to present to you?”
But Roman kept his head high, and left the facility.
"You’re treating me like a prisoner, which I am not. You’re saying, you’re claiming to be an innocent, free person, I have no proof of that. So I’m not allowing you in, shoo go away. That’s how I felt," Roman said.
As he sat in the parking lot, Roman's attorney called the prison.
"I was repeatedly hung up, employees wouldn’t provide their names, they wouldn’t connect me with their supervisors, they were hostile," said attorney James Henning.
Even an attorney in the Queens Conviction Integrity unit sent an email to the prison in support of Roman. However, it wasn’t until pressed by the I-Team that the Department of Corrections changed its stance, saying that there was no record he was denied access. The department then added it could have been done in error, with the central office promising to ensure Roman won’t be disqualified in the future.
The Office of Special Investigations is now conducting an inquiry into the claims. Roman said he still feels like there is a stigma attached to him for having been in prison.
"Of course it’s hurtful. Waiting in line for an hour and essentially being kicked out or off from the building — which is what I was," he said, adding that he would "love an apology."
Roman has filed civil claims against both the city and state. If the case goes to trial, his team plans to call the original prosecutor and detectives.