Black Man Detained For Three Months After Honey Was Mistaken for Meth

A Black man from Maryland was detained for 82 days in jail when the honey he was bringing into the US was mistaken for liquid methamphetamine by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.

Leon Haughton was returning from a holiday family visit in Jamaica with three bottles of honey at around 10 p.m. on December 29. Customs officers at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport reportedly stopped Haughton and misidentified the bottles as liquid meth.

Haughton, 45, was detained by the officers for more than two hours at the airport before Maryland Transportation Authority Police handcuffed him. The officers told him the bottles of honey had tested positive for methamphetamine in a drug field test, The Washington Post reported. Court testimony documents found that Haughton’s status as a legal permanent resident with a green card prolonged his case. The airport arrest and alleged drug felonies automatically activated a federal detention order.

Twenty days after he was arrested, the bottles of honey tested negative in a state lab, but Haughton still remained behind bars until the charges and detention order were dropped two more months later.

"Someone dropped the ball somewhere," Haughton's lawyer, Terry Morris, told The Washington Post. "An innocent man spent 82 days in jail for bringing honey into the United States."

Haughton told the publication that he has been traveling to Jamaica to visit his mother and the rest of his family for 10 years without any problems. On the day of his arrest, a K-9 unit started sniffing his bag. Haughton thought the dog was interested in his leftover chicken; however, agents noticed the dog’s behavior, associated it with possible drug detection, and took Haughton away. Charging documents stated the K-9 performed a “random scan” and alerted officers to search Haughton’s bag.

Haughton told the agents he was “100% sure I don’t have drugs.” He and Morris claimed they believe he was the victim of racial profiling, as Morris said authorities proceeded to question him about “a big Jamaican gang and drug dealing conspiracy."

The 45-year-old father of six children faced 25 years in jail and appeared in court for a bail review two days after he was arrested. A judge agreed to let him go on a work release because he had no prior convictions, according to court documents. Three weeks later, he remained in jail because the drug charges triggered additional scrutiny from CBP, Morris said.

Maryland State Police lab tests found “No (controlled dangerous substance) detected” on January 17, and prosecutors had dropped the three felony drug charges by January 23. That left only a misdemeanor charge for possession of a controlled dangerous substance, The Washington Post reported. On January 24, Haughton asked Anne Arundel County District Court Judge Laura M. Robinson to be released, but Robinson said she was worried he would not appear for trial, stating Haughton was at risk of deportation. He was returned to jail until his third bail review on February 5.

Morris asked the judge to release Haughton because, without the felony charges, he was no longer subject to federal detention. Despite this, Haughton stayed in jail while Morris tried to lift the immigration detainer, but could not reach anyone at Immigration and Customs Enforcement during a government shutdown.

"The thing that's going to end up happening, and they're going to realize it is, it's just honey," Morris said during the bail review. "He's been in jail for 30 days for honey."

Haughton told the publication he lost both of his jobs as a construction worker and a cleaner because of the charges.

"They messed up my life," Haughton told The Washington Post. "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."

A similar incident occurred to a Honduras-born US citizen who was illegally jailed in Louisiana because a sheriff’s department thought he was in the country illegally. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed a lawsuit against the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office on behalf of Ramon Torres on August 21.

Torres was arrested on August 31, 2018 by a Louisiana State Police officer on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, according to the lawsuit. Torres refused to take a breath test and was taken to Ascension Parish Jail for booking. When arrested, the lawsuit states Torres had a Security Passport issued by the Alliance Safety Council, which requires a social security number, and a valid driver’s license issued by the State of Louisiana. Despite this, the sheriff’s office held Torres for three days past his release date of September 1, 2018.

Torres’ co-worker Cameron Moore called the sheriff's office to ask when Torres would be released, but an officer said he was still being detained because he was in the country illegally. Moore sent over all of Torres’ documents, including a Certificate of Naturalization issued by the United States Citizen and Immigration Services, Torres’ social security card, his birth certificate issued by the Republic of Honduras, and his US passport. Despite this, Torres was detained until September 4, 2018, according to the lawsuit.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.