Nightmare in Haiti: Family, friends work to free Bradenton man

Everything moves slowly in Haiti.

After seven years, Daniel Pye and his wife, Leann, both from Bradenton, had grown accustomed to that unwritten law of the land.

They run an orphanage and mission in the southern coastal city of Jacmel, where they care for 22 children along with their 4-year-old daughter, Riann. Leann is expecting a son, Joseph Daniel, in a few weeks, too.

But the system came to a grinding halt more than four months ago, and it has them trapped in a nightmare.

Daniel is in jail and Leann said he did nothing wrong. She has been pleading for help since she returned to Bradenton in January.

The U.S. Embassy is working to move Daniel’s case forward, as are two Haitian senators and the country’s Ministry of Justice, she said.

Several lawyers, missionary friends and the senior pastor of her church in Haiti are also fighting to free Daniel.

The first arrest

On Oct. 13, Daniel was arrested and jailed without charges being filed against him.

The 29-year-old was detained after he and his wife went to the courthouse to sort out assets with a previous organization they worked with, said Leann, 27. During the process, Investigative Judge Jean Maxon Samedy ordered Daniel’s arrest.

“I was literally spazzing out in two languages, no one knew what was happening,” Leann said.

She said it was a pressure tactic to make sure the couple signed over assets. Daniel would be released if they did so, they were told.

They signed over the assets, she said. But Daniel wasn’t released.

“I was told my husband was being held by the court and that, legally, the judge can hold somebody up to 90 days to investigate,” Leann said.

According to Haitian law, an investigative judge can hold someone in jail for up to 90 days while an investigation is being conducted, said Joel Petit-Homme, a lawyer in Haiti. The accused doesn’t always have to be in jail during this investigation, but it can happen, he said.

“I remember when Danny was first put in prison. When I was told that he would probably be there for the 90 days. I remember saying, ‘There is no way I will last 90 days. There is no way that I can do Christmas alone.’ When talking with Danny, he said, ‘I can’t do three months in this prison. I won’t live,’ ” Leann wrote on her blog. “I wonder if God saw that as a challenge. Him knowing what the future days held. And now, four months later, I wonder where this strength has come from.”

Christmas eve

Daniel was supposed to be released Christmas Eve.

Leann says she went to the jail to pick up her husband.

As the couple walked away from the jail, he was slapped with another arrest warrant. The judge had ordered Daniel back in jail.

“We were literally about 10 feet outside the prison. And that’s when I had my second meltdown,” Leann said.

The warrant was written in French. But Leann, who speaks Creole and English, said the paper was snatched out of her hand before she could get someone to translate it.

She later learned the judge had charged him with possession of illegal documents -- specifically, his identification card.

Leann said the pair obtained Haitian identification cards legally from the immigration office in Port-au-Prince seven years ago. Daniel’s card expired in April 2010, but he had since obtained another form of legal identification, she said.

In January, doctors told Leann to return to the United States. The stress of the situation could cause premature labor, they said.

The Haitian system

The U.S. State Department warns on its travel website that the “judicial process in Haiti can be extremely slow; process is often dependent on considerations not related to the specific case.”

Jon Piechowski, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, notes that travelers in a foreign country are under their laws and their system.

“For him and his family, it’s a frustrating experience and we are trying to get the government of Haiti to move this along,” he said.

According to Osner Fevry, a legal expert in Haiti providing Daniel assistance pro-bono, the charges against Daniel stem from a personal issue with Samedy, the judge.

After the devastating earthquake in January 2010, a considerable number of international organizations flooded in with relief. Daniel helped translate for one of those groups.

“We knew the people and the language,” Leann said. “We helped an organization rent a hotel. And it’s my understanding the judge was at that hotel and had to leave,” once it was taken over.

Fevry contends the judge could not “forget this past experience” and now “is taking revenge.”

“I think we’ll get him out. I am convinced there is no evidence to keep him in prison and it’s a kind of personal revenge,” Fevry said. “Ethical and moral principles have been violated by the judge.”

Life behind bars

Being an American might benefit Daniel in jail, according to Ken Boodhoo, an emeritus professor at Florida International University specializing in Haiti.

“It’s fourth world ... they don’t have structure in their society to help them,” said Boodhoo. “He would get good treatment there by Haitian standards because he is an American. It’s very likely they would permit his friends and relatives to take meals to him.”

That’s exactly what Leann did right after Daniel was jailed. She also provided cleaning supplies and medical aid for her husband after he caught malaria, skin infections and had digestive issues that put him in isolation.

Come November, however, all visitation to the jail was severely restricted because of the cholera epidemic. Her visits were limited.

Since her return to the United States, Daniel has been protected and taken care of by his cellmates, who recognize him from his missionary work, she said.

What’s next?

In her blog, “Pye’s in Haiti,” Leann has shared her sadness.

“I read a letter from Danny to the kids last night. He wants us to still do Christmas if he is not out. The kids refused. They don’t want to celebrate Christmas at all. It breaks my heart so much,” she wrote.

She also has written about the slowness of things in Haiti:

“If you are going to a Haitian bank remember 2 things: bring a jacket and eat before. 5 hours to do 2 small things. Wow!”

Meanwhile, the Pyes have two Haitian friends taking care of the children at the orphanage. And lawyers, missionary friends and the family’s pastor fighting for Daniel’s freedom.

Piechowski said the U.S. Embassy in Haiti has been involved in this case since the beginning and the primary concern is to make sure Daniel is being treated fairly and humanely.

“Our primary responsibility when there is an American detained overseas is to ensure their welfare,” he said. “Specific to this case, we are working within the limit of our authority to urge the Haitian government to act.”

Two Haitian senators and the Haitian Ministry of Justice have also stepped in to convince the judge to release Daniel.

“My two older kids went on Haitian radio -- that’s the thing to do in Haiti -- and spoke about how their papa is unjustly in prison,” Leann said.

The two 19-year-olds even landed a one-on-one session with the judge to discuss his release.

The pair were told by the judge that Daniel would be released from jail sometime last week.

That never happened, and Fevry said he heard the judge took the week off because he had been beaten by the devil and was receiving treatment at a Voodoo priest temple in the countryside.

As they wait for the judge to return to work, Leann and her daughter live day by day.

They wait for the baby to be born. The due date is March 27.

And they wait for Daniel to be released.

Riann, a splitting image of her father, misses her “kids” at the orphanage, and yearns to see Dad.

She prays every night before bed.

“Dear Jesus, please let my Daddy come home.”

Paradise Afshar, Herald writer, can be reached at 745-7024.

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