Jami Grant, forensics program director, dies at 51

University of Baltimore professor was mentor to detectives, crime technicians

March 27, 2011|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

Jami Grant, director of the forensic science program at the University of Baltimore and mentor to many of Maryland's detectives and crime scene technicians, died Wednesday of pneumonia at a hospital in Flagstaff, Ariz.

The Ruxton resident, who was traveling to the Grand Canyon when she became ill, was 51.

Mel Laney, a Reisterstown resident and her companion of three years, said Dr. Grant had been in robust health until a cold developed into a rare form of pneumonia that couldn't be brought under control. "It was definitely shocking to everybody," he said.

Jami Rene Long was born in Hagerstown and moved to the Baltimore area with her family when she was 8. She attended Dulaney High School and was a 1985 graduate of Towson University, where she became interested in criminology.

She earned a master's degree from the University of Baltimore in 1990 and a doctorate from the University of Maryland's Institute of Criminal Justice and Criminology in 2000.

Debra Stanley, a UB professor and executive director of the School of Criminal Justice, said Dr. Grant was recruited for the college's faculty after her graduate studies because professors recognized her as a "superstar."

Dr. Grant served in an adjunct faculty role before becoming an assistant professor in 1997 and head of the forensic studies program in 1999. She achieved tenure and became an associate professor in the school's Division of Criminology in 2008.

Dr. Stanley described Dr. Grant's forensic studies program as one of a kind. "She built it from the ground floor," Dr. Stanley said.

Dr. Grant led the effort that in 2005 resulted in a $2 million congressional grant to the university to establish a state-of-the-art crime lab with much of the advanced equipment used by the nation's top police agencies. Dr. Stanley said Dr. Grant made sure it met all the standards for professional accreditation so that it could be used as a backup to the Baltimore Police Department's lab in an emergency.

One aim of the program at UB is to train the technicians who analyze trace evidence from crime scenes and testify about their findings in court — the type of work portrayed on the "CSI" television series. The other is to train detectives. In both cases, Dr. Grant explained on a university Web page, the program teaches the two groups to work together — because when they don't, they lose cases.

Diane Lauder, a Maryland State Police forensic scientist who was a graduate of the program, said Dr. Grant was a "great mentor" who ran a top-notch program. She said Dr. Grant used her extensive contacts in the field to help her graduates land jobs with the state police, local police departments, the FBI, the National Security Agency and other employers.

But winning a recommendation from Dr. Grant did not come easily, Ms. Lauder said.

"She was a very thorough teacher. She made her students think. You couldn't just go in and be mediocre," Ms. Lauder said. "None of her classes was easy. She was no joke. She wanted to produce the best of the best."

Her strict standards didn't necessarily make her popular with every student.

"If you didn't do the work or you didn't work hard, she had no problem failing you for the class," Ms. Lauder said.

Dr. David R. Fowler, the state's chief medical examiner, said his agency has three of Dr. Grant's graduates on its staff, while others have moved on to other jobs.

"When the students are so well prepared, they often float to the top of the applicant pool," he said.

Dr. Fowler said Dr. Grant and members of her faculty frequently collaborated on research papers that helped bring his agency's findings to the attention of fellow scientists. He said she also established working relationships with his agency and others under which her students would receive hands-on experience. The agencies, in turn, benefited by hiring her students.

'She was definitely a person who built strength through collaborative agreements," Dr. Fowler said.

The medical examiner said Dr. Grant was especially interested in the subject of deaths in police custody, a topic on which she published several of her many professional articles. Her other research topics included deaths from allergic reactions and from chest injuries in vehicle collisions.

Nationally known in her field, Dr. Grant was recently elected president of Harvard Associates in Police Science, an organization that works to improve medical science in crime detection. Among her many professional awards was the Yale Gordon College of Liberal Arts Distinguished Chair in Research in 2009.

Dr. Stanley said Dr. Grant was active in volunteer work and gave many presentations about the forensics profession at high schools.

"She always had a feel for the underdog and people who needed help," said her father, Jack D. Long of Timonium.

Mr. Laney said Dr. Grant enjoyed travel, both in the United States and abroad, and powerboating.

A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Trinity Assembly of God, 2122 W. Joppa Road in Towson, with burial to follow at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.

In addition to Mr. Laney and her father, Dr. Grant is survived by a daughter, Nadia Onnen of Ruxton; a son, Julian Onnen of Westminster; a sister, Kelly Cummins of Lutherville; and a granddaughter. Her first husband, Jed Onnen, died 17 years ago. A second marriage to Barry Grant ended in divorce.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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