Many folks with the financial muscle love to travel to other countries but a Maryland man’s ordeal at the hands of U.S. law enforcement agents and the court system could make you think twice.
Leon Haughton, a cleaner and construction worker who originally hails from Jamaica but resident in the U.S. for nearly ten years likes honey in his tea.
Thus, every December, he visits his mother in Jamaica and then brings back some good pure honey from the island to have his tea with as he no longer consumes sugar.
The arrangement has been without any incident till last December when he made his trip and returned with three jars of honey he bought from a roadside shop.
Upon entry to the U.S. through the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on December 29, his woes began, leading to him being detained for 82 days.
At the airport, reports the independent.co.uk, a security dog had become animated sniffing his bags, and after being viewed suspiciously by security officers, he was arrested and accused of smuggling what officials thought was liquid methamphetamine into the U.S.
Despite Haughton’s protestations, the federal officers would hear nothing of it and yet, after spending nearly three months in jail, all charges were dropped with two rounds of law enforcement lab tests showing no controlled substances in the bottles.
But the harm has been done. Haughton, who, according to his lawyer, had no criminal record, had lost both of his jobs as a cleaner and a construction worker.
He is now rebuilding his life with his lady-love and family of six children months after his release.
“They messed up my life. I want the world to know that the system is not right. If I didn’t have strong people around me, they would probably leave me in jail. You’re lost in the system,” he said.
It must be noted that Haughton fainted upon his arrest and the police took him to a hospital and then to jail.
Haughton’s status as a legal permanent resident with a green card complicated his case. Since he was arrested at an airport for alleged drug felonies, his case triggered a federal detention order that extended his time in jail, court testimony showed.
Twenty days after his arrest, a state police lab test looking for drugs in the bottles came up negative. Yet the 45-year-old father sat behind bars for two more months before the last of the charges were dropped after a second all-clear in a federal lab test.
At a court hearing on March 21, a month and a half after Haughton’s third bail review and nearly three months after his initial arrest, prosecutors dropped the final charge, paving way for Haughton to go home.
“Someone dropped the ball somewhere,” Haughton’s lawyer Terry Morris said. “An innocent man spent 82 days in jail for bringing honey into the United States.”
Haughton and Morris contend he was stereotyped because of his race. Authorities, Haughton’s lawyer said, questioned him about “a big Jamaican gang and drug-dealing conspiracy.”
“I’m 100 per cent sure I don’t have drugs,” Haughton recalled telling the agents. “I only have honey.”
Carey Phillips, Haughton’s girlfriend, said: “I was shocked.” “It seems unreal to me. If someone does a crime, you understand, but if there’s nothing, that time is wasted.”
Haughton, who could have spent 25 years behind bars, recalls the emotions, the stress and the pain in his children’s voices when they spoke on the phone while he was incarcerated.
“It broke me right down,” Haughton said. “Every time, they asked, ‘When are you coming home?’”
Haughton said he’s been trying to get his life back in order. He has a job driving a bread truck after losing his previous jobs while in jail and his children are trying to improve their grades after the trauma of his disappearance affected their schoolwork.
“I’m scared to even travel right now. You’re innocent, and you can end up in jail,” the terrified father said.