A Dayton man was accused of kidnapping one of three missing Cleveland women long before they escaped and Ariel Castro, who committed suicide in prison this week, was convicted in the case.
Castro kidnapped the women and tortured and raped them, while holding them captive for nearly a decade in his Cleveland home.
On April 2, 2004, the day Gina DeJesus disappeared, Gerry Griffith Jr. said he was lost in Cleveland and stopped to ask a young woman for directions.
Griffith was working as a janitor at Good Samaritan Hospital while on probation for drug charges in when that chance encounter led to him being named a suspected abductor.
“In 30 days I went from being an employed citizen at Good Samaritan, to a child abductor, then it turned into a drug dealer,” Griffith said.
After spending nearly a decade labeled as a possible child abductor, Griffith said the events of the past four months have been bittersweet. Especially as he continues to fight for compensation for three years he spent in federal prison, the result of an illegal search of his residence during the manhunt for DeJesus.
Court documents support Griffith’s story, which began on April 2, 2004. He was lost in Cleveland and stopped to ask a young woman for directions. A security guard at a nearby school questioned him after the girl allegedly said he tried to lure her into his vehicle.
Griffith was allowed to leave and the security guard didn’t report the incident to police until six days later as the hunt for DeJesus intensified. A warrant, later determined to be improperly issued by a prosecutor instead of a judge, was issued for Griffith’s arrest on a charge of attempted abduction.
According to appellate court documents, on April 8, 2004, “officers from the Cleveland and Dayton police departments as well as the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms lured Griffith back to his house by calling him at his place of work in Dayton and falsely telling him his home had been burglarized.”
They interrogated him and he eventually consented to a search of his residence to prove he didn’t have the girl.
“I was shocked because I had seen it on the news while I was up there,” he said of being connected to DeJesus’ disappearance.
The FBI canvassed Griffith’s neighborhood and searched his home, recovering three guns and some crack cocaine, but no evidence of an abduction. DeJesus was 200 miles away.
Griffith doesn’t claim to have a clean record. He’s been convicted of theft and possession of cocaine and is currently under indictment for possession of cocaine, marijuana and heroin.
Griffith’s defense attempted to get the evidence from the search thrown out in U.S. District Court where he was charged with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense. They argued that it was the fruit of an unlawful arrest. He lost that motion, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in federal prison in 2005.
That decision was reversed on appeal and he was released. But the rumors about DeJesus followed him. “Even when I came home, people looked at me differently,” he said.
When the story of the Cleveland kidnap victims’ escape first broke on May 6, Griffith said he felt blessed. “When they said another girl, Gina DeJesus, has been freed, I just sat up and cried,” he said. “Now they know I never had her.”
“I hate keeping seeing it on TV because I feel like it keeps slapping me in the face,” he said.
But he continues to work to obtain a judgment of wrongful imprisonment despite an Ohio Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that his case doesn’t meet the criteria.