US pastor still stuck in Haitian jail after 5 months without charges


(AP) –

JACMEL, Haiti (AP) — It’s become a running joke of sorts, a cruel one for Danny Pye: Nearly every week authorities tell the U.S. missionary he’ll be freed from his Haitian jail cell “next week,” that the man who cared for Haitian orphans will be home with his own daughter and pregnant wife “next week.”

But the weeks go by, and almost nothing has changed since Pye found himself abruptly jailed last October.

“I’ve been told it was supposed to happen pretty much every week for the last five months,” Pye told The Associated Press during a brief talk at his cell.

There are no charges filed against the 29-year-old Christian pastor. He initially was ordered into 90-day custody pending an investigation into claims he’d taken property belonging to a U.S.-based ministry. The order even surprised ministry leaders, who thought they’d settled the dispute.

Pye was momentarily freed on Christmas Eve. But as he and his wife, Leanne, walked to their car, a police officer approached, handed Danny Pye a warrant, and marched him back to jail in handcuffs. Later, he was told that questions had arisen about the validity of his residency card.

Pye, who waits in a 10-by-12-foot (3-by-3½-meter) cell shared with nearly 30 other men, finds the ordeal Kafkaesque.

“I have not been charged with anything. There is no reason. … There is no explanation.”

Pye is no newcomer to Haiti. He and Leanne moved from Bradenton, Florida, in 2004 to launch their Joy in Hope ministry in Jacmel, a picturesque town on Haiti’s southern coast. The widespread poverty can be overwhelming for some foreigners, she said, but the couple were happy there.

“Haiti, it’s just a very simple life,” Leanne Pye said from Bradenton, where she is awaiting the birth of their son, expected this month.

Then came the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010. As aid workers, fellow missionaries and journalists spilled into Haiti, Pye became a well-known contact, one whose fluent Creole and experience in Haiti made him a valuable resource.

One of the volunteers who connected with Pye then was Christopher Tompkins, executive director of the International Medical Assistance Team, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization comprising volunteer medical professionals.

“By all accounts, the guy takes good care of the kids,” said Tompkins, who also is a firefighter and paramedic in Washington state’s Snohomish County. “He and his wife are good people.”

But after the quake, the Joy in Hope ministry itself was shaken: According to Pye, he and another couple became locked in a struggle for control of the North Carolina-based mission. Last August, Pye was dismissed by the mission’s board, leading him and his wife to create a separate orphanage for the 22 children under their care that they named Kenbe Fem, Creole for “Hold Strong.”

Joy in Hope director Brian Williams declined to give details about Pye’s dismissal, blaming it only on “organizational issues.”

When he left, Pye took five trucks and several small motorcycles that were registered in his name but had been purchased with the ministry’s money. The two sides went to court and Pye agreed to sign over the vehicles, as well as any claim to about 17 acres (seven hectares) of oceanfront land near Jacmel that the ministry hopes to develop.

Both parties say they expected the deal would end the dispute. But at a meeting on Oct. 13, a judge ordered Pye into custody. He was handcuffed and led out.

Leanne Pye was stunned.

“I was asking, ‘What in the world is happening?’ … I kept on asking over and over: ‘What’s happening?’ and ‘Why are they doing this?’ and ‘Where is he going?’ And no one seemed to have any answer.”

Williams, interviewed by phone from Cary, North Carolina, said he, too, was surprised. “We were shocked that he was arrested that day because we were told it was resolved.”

“In no way, shape or form would I care to have a friend, someone I care deeply for, in a Haitian jail,” he said.

Haitian authorities have said little about Pye’s case. A court date has not been set.

The Haitian legal system gives judges wide latitude to detain people under investigation. In fact, the majority of prisoners in the country have not been convicted. Many awaiting trial are detained for periods exceeding the length of any sentence they might have received — a situation that has long been a source of criticism from human rights groups in Haiti and abroad.

Judge Maxon Samdi, who ordered the detention, did not respond to requests for comment. A fellow judge, Carlo Jean Louis, said Samdi has been seriously ill and is unavailable.

Justice Minister Paul Denis said he received a letter from U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten about the case, and the two would meet to discuss it. “I believe the case will be moving forward,” he said.

Pye’s supporters are holding on, but they have little optimism.

“The judge in this case is not in any hurry to release him,” said Jon Hancock, who works with a separate Jacmel mission and delivers food to Pye at the jail.

Pye, barefoot and shirtless in the crowded cell, stays positive during his long wait, despite having suffered from malaria and scabies.

What’s more, he plans to stay in Haiti after his release.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I still have 22 kids I have to care for.”

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