Story of Leonard Rowe's Unjust Imprisonment
Leonard Rowe, an African American, spent 115 days incarcerated in the Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility in Lovejoy, GA about 30 miles outside of Atlanta due to the violation of his Fourth Amendment rights by the Johns Creek, Georgia police department and the U.S. Marshals Service. He was arrested without a warrant in his home in St. Ives Country Club Estates.
The prison, a far cry from Mr. Rowe's home, is part of the for-profit, privatized prison system owned and operated by The GEO Group. Over the years, GEO facilities have been embroiled in controversy relating to a number of injuries, deaths, inadequate medical care and cover-ups; riots; unsanitary conditions, smuggling of illegal drugs and sexual exploitation of youth.
Mr. Rowe was told that he was the only prisoner at the Deyton Facility being held without a warrant. Most of the inmates Mr. Rowe was housed with were considered dangerous, hard-core criminals sentenced to 20 years to life, such as "Fat Head" who was convicted of armed robbery and two murders and "Fat Steve," a heavy-duty drug dealer sentenced to 15 to 30 years.
Deyton detainees are not allowed to accept any items from visitors and are only allowed one visit per week limited to 30 minutes. No contact with visitors is allowed. Visitors must arrive before 4:30 pm, sign in and successfully complete a security inspection or be turned away.
Mr. Rowe did not allow his daughter Diamond to visit; he allowed his wife, Regina, to visit just one time. Dressed in his orange prison garb, Leonard spoke to Regina by phone through heavy glass. His imprisonment was a heartbreaking and very difficult ordeal for Mr. Rowe, his family and others who knew this affable, quiet neighbor. Like Leonard, they knew, "An inmate can get beaten up and killed for just looking the wrong way."
Leonard first slept on a steel slab and later was given an old thin mattress. There was no bathroom door and no privacy. Each morning, seven days a week, Leonard and his cellmate were awakened at 4:30 am. During the day inmates were let out into a small yard sealed with 25-foot concrete walls. Four times a day prisoners had to return to their cells and were locked down for head count. The humiliation he suffered from spreading his legs and his buttocks for contraband checks was dehumanizing.
What are the Neighbors Thinking?
Weighing heavily on the minds of the Rowe family was the talk around the St. Ives community and Johns Creek. The fear and embarrassment of being hauled out of his home at gunpoint by marshals and police while dressed only in his underwear, legs and arms in chains, was both terrifying and humiliating to Leonard and his family. Also they worried about what their neighbors were thinking and saying about the family, concerned if their reputation would be irreparably tarnished?
Food provided was called slop and not deemed fit for human consumption. Lunch was often hard bread and "green" baloney, so much of Leonard's diet became packaged soup purchased from the canteen. He suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure and went without his medication for three weeks. Leonard lost 30 pounds while incarcerated.
To a man who was innocent of any crime and whose seizure, arrest and confinement had violated his constitutional rights, every day in prison, away from his family and not knowing what the next moment may bring, was especially tortuous for him and his family.
But prison was not going to break his spirit or determination to get justice. Leonard was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His life wasn't easy after his father was killed serving in Vietnam when Leonard was only thirteen.
At 3 one morning, Leonard was awakened, told to dress, put in chains and placed on a bus with 20 other prisoners, taken to an airfield and placed on a plane bound for a prison in New York. On the way to the airfield, Mr. Rowe began to experience chest pains. While boarding the flight paramedics were called to examine Mr. Rowe. After his exam they concluded that his condition was too risky to take the flight and he was returned to the detention facility.
The trepidation he felt hit him hard. He wondered if he could survive in some prison in upstate New York, alone and where he knew nobody, so distant from his family. Two days later, with no notification, he was awakened again at 3 am to board a bus to the airfield and to a prisoners' plane headed for New York.
Leonard's false imprisonment ended on August 1, 2015. However, his fight for justice continues on many fronts against the City of Johns Creek and its liability insurance carrier, The Travelers Companies.