Greg Rife understands the danger that could await him in Jacmel, Haiti when he attempts to see and record on camera jailed American missionary Danny Pye, who’s been held in a Haitian jail since last October with no charges.
Rife also understands that by the time he and members of his Restore Ministries group, based in Groves, reach Haiti on March 21, if enough media attention is paid to Pye’s plight, the 29-year-old Pye could be home with his family; and Rife and his ministry (he and another member, Adam Meyer will be in Haiti for six weeks) will move forward and complete construction on a school and church in Petit Goave they started months ago.
“If enough attention is drawn to Danny here in the states, then that could put pressure on them there (in Haiti) to get him out,” said Rife, a 41-year-old transplant to Southeast Texas after Hurricane Rita brought him to this area. The Pennsylvania native said he and his ministry group already had plans to go to Haiti later this month anyway, however once he found out about Pye’s predicament, “seeing him and working for his release was put first on the priority list.”
According to Timothy Smith, the pastor at Pye’s church in Bradenton, Florida, and various news reports, including the AP and Fox News, an apparent dispute between Pye and his former ministry board over vehicles and land led to Pye going to court over the dispute in October of 2010, which ultimately landed him in jail. According to reports, Pye signed the assets over shortly after his arrest to appease the Haitian court in Jacmel, but he was still not released. On December 24, Pye was released only to be re-arrested before making it to his car in the jail’s parking lot and sent back to jail, where he has remained.
Gary Lissade, a Haitian attorney who represented Jim Miller, a Texan who was one of 10 Americans jailed in Haiti last year on kidnapping charges, wrote in an email to The Examiner for this story that “the magistrate after a maximum 90 days of detention should send him to a Court for Trial if he found sufficient charges for Danny. It looks very weird that he was released and then called again for the same cause.”
Lissade, whose office is in Port-Au-Prince, had not heard of Pye’s incarceration before being contacted by The Examiner, said he would look into the matter further.
In an email to The Examiner just before press time late Wednesday evening, Gary Lissade, who is from Jacmel, said that after reading about Danny Pye’s case, “I tried to reach some people in Jacmel by phone today, but unfortunately everything seems to be close because today is a holiday after carnival. I will try to help to have Danny out of jail. I will try again tomorrow and I will speak to the Judge.
However I will do my best to help, because situation like that is not good for the image of the Haitian Justice. We need serious reform in that sector. Count on me, I will help, but I need to know better on the case. After I speak to the Judge, and some people in Jacmel, I will be in a better position to help. I will stay in touch with you.”
However, there is new information regarding the possible motivation for Pye’s imprisonment. On Wednesday, Mar. 9, Pye’s wife, Leann, who is in Florida, nine months pregnant with the couple’s second child, told Fox News that she’s heard reports that the judge who threw her husband in jail was upset over being kicked out of his hotel after Pye helped a relief organization rent the hotel out after the earthquake.
As for Rife, he’s no stranger to Haiti, and he’s no stranger to Danny Pye, whom he met after the Earthquake that devastated the small Caribbean Island last January 12. The Earthquake killed approximately 316,000 according to the Haitian Government, which released those figures on the one-year anniversary of the quake. The Red Cross estimated that approximately 3 million people were affected by the quake, whether killed, injured or displaced.
And it was because of the earthquake that Rife, like many other missionary groups, flocked to Haiti after the destruction to help the scores of Haitians who were without food, water or medical treatment.
Rife said he had an encounter with the Haitian Police in the aftermath after the earthquake over food that Rife was attempting to load and give to needy Haitians. Unfortunately, the police had their own ideas with the food. However Rife, a good-sized guy at 6-4, 235 lbs., took exception to his donated food being taken away from its original destination and took his food back, which was not looked at too kindly by the Haitian Police, who took it out on Rife, with Rife ending up on the ground and military forces showing up. Before any more drama could ensue, Pye, an eight-year veteran of the Haitian island, stepped in.
“Danny came in and told the military, ‘(Rife) doesn’t care about the stuff that you’ve already took, but this can’t happen. They paid for this food, they paid for the flights in here and this is for specific people,” Rife said. Once the police and military heard Pye’s explanation, they were satisfied and left Rife and his group alone.
But it was Pye’s intervention that kept a bad situation from escalating into something much worse.
“Danny’s decision to put himself between the police and me when Danny lives there and I don’t was risky, especially when he could have found himself in trouble, but he stepped in anyways. So for that reason, I owe Danny some level of risk in this thing,” Rife said.
While the risk Rife could be taking is commendable, and one that Rife freely admits he’s somewhat nervous about, those with knowledge of both Haiti and the Haitian judicial system caution what the burly Rife could find himself in, especially when the Haitian elections run from Mar. 20 through the 23rdand the chaos that will more than likely ensue from that could make an already daunting task that much more harrowing.
“My hunch is, if they do not have high-level government focus on this, or support on this from members of Congress, nothing will happen” Reginald Brown told The Examiner. Brown, a Washington D.C, based attorney, also represented Miller last year and wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and urged she get involved in helping free his client.
“The Haitian prisons are the worst in the hemisphere, and that’s well documented. With sort of no one looking, people will play games. So, absent of a lot more public attention, the chances of (Pye) getting treated fairly are pretty slim,” Brown said.
He also acknowledges that Rife could find himself sitting along side Pye in jail if he’s not careful.
“He has no idea what he’s about to get into, and back in Beaumont, you need to be concerned that he could personally be ensnared and be treated similarly, so it’s a very risky proposition to go over there.”
Greg Yoder, executive director of Mission Network News, who was in Haiti for the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, echoed some of Brown’s sentiments. “He could find himself walking into a hornet’s nest when he gets there,” Yoder said of Rife going during the elections. Given the shady nature of the Haitian judicial system and trying to free Pye, “you have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt,” Yoder said, “so they don’t want to cause any waves.”
Of course, Fox News has picked up on the story, and Rife, when reached by phone Wednesday evening, thinks the national attention to this story will only increase by the time he gets there, so it’s hard to say what Pye’s situation could be come March 24, which is when Rife and Meyer will arrive in Jacmel – if they can even make it depending on what turmoil the elections will bring to the small country.
Either way, Rife is determined to do whatever he can to help a man he considers a friend.
“If we don’t try, we can’t succeed,” Rife said, “we’ll push forward, but knowing when to stop in Haiti is always the key.”