A Maryland man is struggling to pick up the pieces after his life was shattered by a critical mistake that landed him in jail for nearly three months. Now, he’s speaking out.
Leon Haughton said he’s since lost both of his jobs, doesn’t have insurance and his credit is in the toilet after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials thought the bottles of honey he brought back from his native Jamaica were tainted with liquid meth.
The father of six said the mix-up has been devastating for himself and his family, to say the least.
“They messed up my life,” Haughton told The Washington Post in a recent interview. “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.”
Haughton had just landed at Baltimore’s Washington Airport following a Christmas visit to relatives in Jamaica last year. He soon found himself in the custody of CBP officials, who detained him after they claimed he was trying to smuggle in not honey, but drugs.
The Maryland man recalled the moment two police dog started sniffing his luggage, a curiosity he thought was sparked by the left over KFC meal in his bag. He was surprised, however, when authorities seized the bottled honey, purchased from his favorite roadside stand in Jamaica, instead.
“I saw them come and handcuff me and take me away from my suitcase, so I said, ‘What’s your problem?’ ” he said. That’s when officials informed him that the honey tested positive for methamphetamine.
Haughton fainted at the news and had to be hospitalized after repeatedly insisting to agents that “I only have honey.” He was then carted off to jail where he would remain for 82 days, starting Dec. 30, 2018.
It would be nearly three months before the charges were dropped and a second round of lab tests concluded there were no drugs in the honey.
“Someone dropped the ball somewhere,” said Terry Morris, Haughton’s attorney. “An innocent man spent 82 days in jail for bringing honey into the United States.”
According to The Washington Post, the Maryland man’s arrest an airport on alleged felony charges resulted in a federal detention order that extended his stay behind bars. Haughton’s status as a green card holder also made his case that much more difficult.
Morris suspects his client was targeted because of his race and noted how CPB questioned Haughton about “a big Jamaican gang and drug dealing conspiracy” after they accused him of trying to bring in meth.
Less than a month after his arrest, a state police lab test looking for drugs in the honey came back negative, according the newspaper. Still, Haughton sat behind bars for two more months before the last of the charges against were dismissed after a second lab test, this one federal, also came back clean.
“My kids were stressed out, my mom, everybody,” he told local station WJLA. “They put me through hell. Once I came out, all of my insurances collapsed, my credit was destroyed, I lost my job, everything. They just left me a mess.”
It wasn’t until a court hearing March 21 — and three bail reviews later — that the 45-year-old father was finally cleared for release. He was going home.
Haughton said he’s still working to get his life back on track. He’s back with his family and has already secured another job, however, he said the sticky situation has scarred him forever.
“I’m scared to even travel right now,” Haughton told The Washington Post. “You’re innocent, and you can end up in jail.”