A landlord and his wife were still reeling Thursday from spending two days in the Clayton County Jail this week after reporting to police that they had found bags of methamphetamine in their rental property.
“I’m still in disbelief,” Michael Keeley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Keeley and his new bride, Channel, are free on $5,000 bond each after being charged with tampering with drug evidence recovered Sunday from their rental home in Rex.
The incident was first reported by Channel 2 Action News. Efforts were being made Thursday to get more information from Clayton police on the arrests. When contacted by the AJC, a Clayton police spokeswoman said it was a federal case, despite the state charge. Federal authorities, however, said they were not involved in the arrests.
Keeley, of Lithonia, said he, his wife and their 9-year-old son had just arrived at the home around 9 a.m. Sunday when they noticed the back door open, a window broken and the home vandalized. When they went into a bathroom, they noticed holes in the wall and the vanity mirror removed.
Keeley said he looked closer and noticed eight bags in the wall, which Clayton police narcotics officers later identified as meth.
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Earlier on Oct. 2, agents with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security, and Clayton police arrested three tenants who lived at the home after meth was found inside a vehicle two of them were riding in, Keeley said.
At the time, the landlord said he provided an ICE agent with information the tenants had provided on their rental applications. After the home was searched for drugs following the arrests, the home was turned back over to Keeley, who returned around 9 a.m. Sunday with his wife and child to clean it up and ready it for the next tenant.
Keeley said that when he found the bags of meth in the bathroom wall, he took them out and left them. He then immediately called the ICE agent he’d spoken to earlier. “He said, ‘I’m on my way and call 911,’” Keeley recalled Thursday. After calling 911, Keeley said he and his wife briefly left the residence.
“We didn’t feel safe in the house,” the landlord said. “We didn’t know if they [intruders] were still there. We didn’t know if someone was in the attic.”
When he returned to the home a second time Sunday around 10 a.m., Clayton police had already arrived and the ICE agent arrived around 10 minutes later.
“I showed them where the back door was open, I showed them where the window was broken out. Then I walked down the hall [to the bathroom] and showed them where the drugs were,” Keeley said.
Keeley said that when the ICE agent eventually left, “the whole atmosphere changed.”
He said the Clayton officers began intensely interrogating him and his wife and questioning him about calls he’d made that morning, many of which Keeley said he’d made trying to reach the ICE agent.
“’Who is this person you called? Who is this person you called?” Keeley said the officers demanded to know until they “snatched my phone.”
Keeley said one agent told him, “OK, come on, guy. Tell the truth. We know no one broke into your house. You did it yourself.” Keeley said he couldn’t tell whether he was also being accused of having the drugs there.
Keeley said his wife was interrogated in the kitchen while he was questioned in another part of the home. Meanwhile, their son was outside in a vehicle crying. Keeley said that when his wife was allowed to console the child, a narcotics officer threatened to put the child in protective services if someone did not come to get him. A neighbor kept the child until relatives arrived, Keeley said.
The couple was taken to Clayton County Jail, where they remained until posting bond Tuesday morning.
Keeley said police still have his and his wife’s cellphones. He was able to remotely retrieve a voicemail from the ICE agent, who had been at the home earlier.
“He was apologetic. He said he did not authorize, he did not know, he had no knowledge that they were targeting us for arrest,” Keeley said. “He thanked me for being a help to them in the past.”
Keeley said he still has not been given a date for a court appearance before a Clayton magistrate.
When contacted Thursday, a Clayton County police spokeswoman would only say that the case was being investigated by ICE, and not Clayton police, even though the evidence tampering charge was state and not federal.
Vinnie Picard, an ICE spokesman, however, told the AJC on Thursday that ICE and Homeland Security were not involved in Sunday’s arrest. “Mr. Keeley and his wife were not arrested on federal charges,” Picard said.
The entire experience has left Keeley disillusioned.
“I feel that we were violated because we put our trust in you [police] to protect us and you turned it against us,” Keeley told Channel 2, adding he will be “forever reluctant to pick up the phone and dial the police again.”