Irvin Cartagena, a/k/a “Green Eyes,” was sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiring to distribute the fentanyl-laced heroin that resulted in the death of Michael K. Williams.
Williams was the actor who rose to fame in 2002 through his critically acclaimed role as Omar Little on the HBO drama series The Wire.
He was been described as a “singular presence, onscreen and off, who made every role his own” but at least one observer noted that the victim would not have approved of the criminal justice system’s response to his death.
Williams also played Albert “Chalky” White on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire from 2010 to 2014.
He earned five Primetime Emmy Award nominations for his performances in the HBO television biopic Bessie (2015), the Netflix drama series When They See Us (2019), and the HBO series The Night Of (2016) and Lovecraft Country (2020).
He had a recurring role in the NBC sitcom Community from 2011 to 2012.
He also had supporting roles in a number of films including Gone Baby Gone (2007), The Road (2009), Inherent Vice (2014), and Motherless Brooklyn (2019), as well as starring roles in 12 Years a Slave (2013), Robocop (2014), The Purge: Anarchy (2014), The Gambler (2014), Triple 9 (2016), Ghostbusters (2016), and Assassin’s Creed (2016).
Williams acknowledged struggles with fame throughout his life, admitting that he had suffered from drug addictions during the height of his success. He continued to live in Brooklyn until his death in 2021 at age 54, after using heroin laced with a lethal amount of fentanyl.
Four men were charged in the aftermath of the actor’s death with various crimes, including manslaughter. Cartagena pleaded guilty on April 5, 2023, before U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams, who imposed the sentence.
“On September 5, 2021, Irvin Cartagena sold Michael K. Williams a fatal dose of heroin laced with fentanyl and a fentanyl analogue,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams. “Michael K. Williams tragically lost his life after using the drugs sold to him by Cartagena. Although their product had already claimed one life, Cartagena and his co-conspirators continued to sell potentially lethal fentanyl-laced heroin.”
“This office will tenaciously continue our enforcement efforts against unscrupulous drug dealers who distribute poison and exacerbate the scourge of the fentanyl epidemic,” said the U.S. Attorney, echoing rhetoric that has defined America’s failed “War on Drugs” for over fifty years.
While he was alive, Williams served as the American Civil Liberties Union’s celebrity ambassador to the Campaign for Smart Justice, an initiative to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to challenge racial disparities in the criminal legal system.
“Ruining people’s lives for small, nonviolent offenses tied to drug use, drug addiction, or mental illness is not the way to go,” said Michael K. Williams. “Health problems are health problems, not criminal justice problems.”
“Our society has been using jails and prisons as a dumping ground for the mentally ill and those addicted to drugs,” said Michael K. Williams. “These human beings don’t belong in prison, they belong in treatment, yet we’ve pushed them into cages and denied them their humanity.”
“Our habit of locking away human beings is a particularly unseemly kind of addiction for a country that prides itself on freedom, especially when the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than China, Russia, or Iran. Right now America has about 5 percent of the world’s population but is responsible for 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population,” said Michael K. Williams. “In other words, one out of four people in prison today are inside U.S. jails and penitentiaries. That is nearly 2.4 million human beings – an obscene number.
In 2014, the ACLU found the incarceration rate disproportionate for African Americans, with Black men incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white men, and Black women incarcerated at twice the rate of white women.
“The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, both per capita and by volume, making up close to five percent of the world’s population yet more than 20 percent of the world’s people in prison,” said the organization.