‘Something Out of the Jim Crow Era’: Black Father Jailed Just Before Thanksgiving on Decades-Old Warrant

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A retired bus driver sat in a Denver jail this Thanksgiving holiday after authorities arrested him Tuesday in connection to a three-decades-old case he thought was resolved.

“It’s been terrible,” Theodell McGowan told Denver station KMGH from jail on Friday. “I had planned to have Thanksgiving dinner with my daughter.”

Theodell McGowan
Theodell McGowan, 69, was allegedly forced to sign a waiver of extradition following his arrest. (Image courtesy of WKRC)

Unbeknownst to him, the 69-year-old was considered a fugitive of the law by the Indiana Department of Corrections, which contacted the Denver Sheriff’s Department to have McGowan arrested for allegedly violating the terms of his sentence at the time. McGowan, who’s lived in Colorado for 30 years now, was convicted of car theft in Gary, Indiana, and had left his halfway house eight months early in 1984.

McGowan’s lawyer, Jason Flores-Williams, insists McGowan completed his sentence and was told he could move out of the halfway house.

“He was doing his time at a halfway house in which he would go to a job every day away from the halfway house, and somebody told him at the halfway house that he had done his time,” Flores-Williams explained. “He had paid his debt to society and so that he could leave, so this is technical.”

“Somehow, someway, somebody — without thinking — in Indiana saw this technicality and issued a warrant for his arrest, which Denver had no choice but to comply with,” the lawyer added.

McGowan is now awaiting extradition from Colorado to Indiana after sheriff’s deputies arrived at his home and arrested him in front of his family last week.

As a RTD bus driver and a driver for Denver Public Schools, McGowan said he’s been through the most extensive of background checks and the warrant never showed up. He even passed a secret service background check when he drove buses during the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.

“I led a stable life, paid for a house, bought a new car … I had a stable life and all of a sudden this comes up from 30-some years ago and they say I owe them eight or nine more months,” he told KMGH. “It’s totally unfair to me because it’s a risk to me losing everything I’ve accumulated in the last 30 years.”

According to Flores-Williams, Denver sheriff’s deputies forced the granddad to sign a document waiving his right to an extradition hearing without allowing him to consult with lawyers or his relatives. McGowan is expected to be extradited to The Hoosier State in the coming days, but family members are calling on Colorado officials to step in.

“It’s a waste of taxpayers money to take a 70-year-old man back to Indiana,” McGowan’s fiancée, Helen Allen, told FOX Denver. “I don’t think he is a threat to anyone.”

Flores-Williams called the matter “completely inhumane” and a “miscarriage of justice.”

“It reminds me of something out of the Jim Crow era, where there’d be some ridiculous charge, some ridiculous technicality,” the lawyer added. “And because somebody decides to call in from Indiana, an older African-American gentleman’s life is basically ruined because he’s thrown behind bars.”

Colorado and Indiana officials are still working to get to the bottom of the matter. It’s still unclear why the warrant was issued after all this time.

Watch more in the clip below.

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