|Updated: Teen held captive on pot farm|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Joel Addington|
|Thursday, 03 November 2011 09:52|
County deputies went to the Crews Road residence of Troy Edward Howell the afternoon of October 25 on a tip he was growing pot and abusing a niece and nephews. What they found were indications of multiple felonies including kidnapping, torture, child abuse and marijuana production.
Mr. Howell gained custody of two boys, ages 18 and 15, and their sister, age 13, after the children’s grandfather died.
They lived with Mr. Howell at 18831 Crews Rd. north of Glen St. Mary for more than two years enduring physical and mental abuse at the hands of their uncle, according to statements made to investigators by the children and included in police reports.
Chuck Brannan, the sheriff’s chief investigator, said Mr. Howell, 29, and the youths occupied a mobile home near a second trailer used for cultivating and processing marijuana.
The 18-year-old was kept locked in his bedroom for hours on end with a door bell mounted to the wall so he could alert Mr. Howell for food or to use the bathroom, the investigator said.The victim told investigators he was a student at Baker County High School until he was no longer allowed to be this year. According to police, he was often restrained by a thick chain attached through the floor to the trailer’s axle.
The teen was not chained up when officers arrived.
“He just walked outside and talked to us with [Mr. Howell],” said Inv. Brannan.
The youth initially said nothing was wrong, but soon told officers he was scared and that his uncle had kept him chained up, according to Deputy Tracie Benton’s report.
The teen bore signs of abuse, including bruises on his head and torso and a swollen eye. According to police, he later said the suspect had beaten him with a PVC pipe, choked him by pulling the chain while it was around his neck and kept him chained up by the neck or ankle unless he was doing chores.
“At night time, he puts me in my room, closes the door and locks it,” the 18-year-old was quoted as saying during a recorded interview with investigators.
He told them the abuse spanned a year to a year and a half.
The teen was taken to Fraser Hospital for treatment. The other siblings were placed in the custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families, who transferred custody to an aunt in Jacksonville.
Mr. Howell faces charges of battery, aggravated battery, aggravated child abuse, false imprisonment, child neglect and cultivation of marijuana.
He was denied bail and remained in county jail early this week.
The suspect’s niece, who attends Baker County Middle School, alerted school officials to the marijuana growing and abuse October 26. They in turn contacted the sheriff’s office.
Three days after his arrest, Mr. Howell called his sister, who was charged with caring for the youngest child and her 15-year-old brother. Mr. Howell was allowed to speak with the girl and blamed her for his arrest, said Sheriff Joey Dobson.
That call has led to another charge for witness tampering.
Mr. Howell’s criminal history in Florida includes traffic and minor drug violations, Inv. Brannan said.
According to the investigator, police seized 9 pounds of processed pot for the Glen address, likely taken from 90 marijuana plants found in another room minus their buds. Also seized were six plants the investigator said were cloned to grow the others and an illegally sawed-off shotgun.
The property was kept secure with the blacked-out windows, electrical fencing and infrared video surveillance that could be monitored from inside both mobile homes.
“It was a pretty elaborate growing operation ... with one room devoted to growing, another room for chemicals and fertilizer and another room for processing,” said Inv. Brannan.
Mr. Howell rented the property from its owner Jean Edwards of Orange Park. He has resided there for three or four years, Inv. Brannan said.
Billy Kinghorn, who resides across the road from the suspect’s address, said he rarely saw Mr. Howell, but recalled seeing the younger siblings get on and off the bus or play in the yard.
“I try to take care of my place,” he said. “I don’t worry about nobody else.”
The children’s mother and grandmother, both in Ohio, said they were unaware and shocked by the alleged abuse.
“I love my children with all my heart,” said the mother Shannon Smith. “I did not know any of this was happening.”
Their grandmother, Debra Grigsby, said she used to be close to Mr. Howell but it all changed after his father James Howell died.
Ms. Grigsby said the suspect wouldn’t let her talk to the children and threatened her if she came to visit. She added she’s very proud of her granddaughter for reporting the alleged abuse despite being scared of her uncle.
“I don’t care what happens to him. I just want to get my grandchildren back here where they belong,” she said.
The two youngest siblings were removed from their aunt’s custody and placed in a foster home by the Florida Department of Children and Families, said the department’s spokesman John Harrell.
He said allowing the sister to speak with Mr. Howell from jail was “absolutely inappropriate” and caregivers at the new foster home understand that Mr. Howell should not be communicating with them.
Mr. Harrell added that the oldest sibling has received some assistance from the department, but as an adult the state would only be involved should the 18-year-old be deemed disabled by a doctor.
Sheriff Dobson said late Tuesday he was unaware of the oldest siblings whereabouts.
|Last Updated on Friday, 04 November 2011 07:12|