Jamaican man detained in US for 82 days over honey
Jamaican Leon Haughton likes honey in his tea.
Which is why during his Christmas visit to relatives in Jamaica, he made his regular stop and bought three bottles from a favourite roadside stand before heading home to Maryland in the United States.
The Washington Post reports that it was a routine purchase for him until he landed at the airport in Baltimore.
Customs officers detained Haughton and police arrested him, accusing him of smuggling in not honey, but liquid methamphetamine or meth.
Haughton spent nearly three months in jail before all charges were dropped and two rounds of law enforcement lab tests showed no controlled substances in the bottles.
By then, Haughton, who, according to his lawyer, had no criminal record, had lost both of his jobs as a cleaner and a construction worker.
“They messed up my life,” Haughton said.
“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.”
Months after his release, he is only now fully rebuilding his life after the setback devastated him and his family of six children.
Haughton’s status as a legal permanent resident with a green card complicated his case.
Because 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 shows.
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 total before the last of the charges were dropped after a second all-clear in a federal lab test.
“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.”
After landing at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on December 29 around 10 p.m., U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained Haughton for more than two hours before Maryland Transportation Authority Police put him in handcuffs, according to charging documents.
The bottles with gold-coloured screw tops labelled “honey” in his bag, they told him, had tested positive in a drug field test for methamphetamine.
Police took him to a hospital and then they took him to jail.
Every year for the nearly 10 years since Haughton has been living in Prince George’s County, the native of Jamaica travels to the island in December to visit his mother.
The green card holder never had any problem returning to Maryland until last year, when a K-9 unit started sniffing around his bag.
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 percent sure I don’t have drugs,’” Haughton recalled insisting to agents.