Katie Byard
and Caitlin Cook

A former Barberton resident was in a Haitian prison Tuesday, detained after being arrested during a pro-military rally on May 18.

On Tuesday, friends and family members made phone calls and sent emails to media representatives and others in hopes of securing 39-year-old Zeke Petrie’s release.

They are particularly concerned about Petrie’s diabetes, for which he takes insulin.

“From my understanding, he’s not getting his insulin on a timely basis,” said Petrie’s brother Ben.

Ben Petrie declined to disclose the source of his information.

The Associated Press has reported that Jason “Zeke” Petrie was one of two Americans jailed after they allegedly drove participants in the Port-au-Prince protest seeking re-establishment of the military. The army was disbanded in 1995 after human rights abuses.

The two men face up to three years in prison if convicted of what authorities are calling conspiracy charges.

Petrie has been living in Haiti, where, friends said, he works as a local contact for foreign journalists, church groups and others visiting the country. Petrie, who speaks Creole, translates and helps secure transportation and access to areas where the visitors might not reach otherwise.

Ben Petrie, 37, who lives in the Akron area, said Tuesday that his brother only means well in Haiti and wasn’t involved in any conspiracy to destabilize the government.

“There was no conspiracy. I would say the only thing he’s guilty of is a little bit of foolishness and his love of the country of Haiti,” Ben Petrie said.

Ben Petrie said the U.S. embassy in Haiti has provided his brother with a list of Haitian lawyers. “Now, how do you find the right lawyer, not someone who is going to take the money and just roll over and side with the government?”

Ben Petrie said another concern is that Haitian media reports “are trying to make [Zeke] out to be some huge gang leader.”

Ben Petrie said his brother knows gang members through his work taking journalists to impoverished spots of Haiti.

“He’s in no way, shape or form, some big gang leader.”

The Associated Press reported last week that government prosecutor Jean-Renel Senatus said that Petrie was of concern because he confessed in jail to having ties to criminal gangs.

Julie Tompkins, whose fiance, Greg Petrie, is a cousin of Zeke’s, sent out emails Tuesday.

“We’re concerned because of the conditions at the facility he’s being detained in,” she said.

“There’s no running water, no plumbing,” she said. “There are 80 people in that 15-by-20 [foot] cell, and he has diabetes.”

Tompkins got her information from a Petrie family friend, Lisa Nuccio, who flew from her home in Florida last week to visit with Petrie in the national penitentiary.

Tompkins said Nuccio was in Florida on Tuesday and planned to return to Haiti today.

Tompkins last saw Petrie in the fall of 2011, when he was visiting family in Barberton.

Anthony DeAngelo, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley Township, said a representative of the State Department has visited with Petrie in the penitentiary and has “made sure he is getting proper medical treatment.”

“We hope to see this come to a swift and positive conclusion,” DeAngelo said. “In the meantime, we’re working with Jason’s family and the State Department.”

The Associated Press said the May 18 march by hundreds of former soldiers and their young recruits turned violent, with protesters throwing rocks at United Nations peacekeepers near the National Palace and 50 participants detained.

Police say Petrie and Steven Shaw, a Massachusetts man, were driving vehicles with pro-army demonstrators in the march when they were picked up a few blocks from the National Palace, according to the Associated Press.

Petrie wore a black T-shirt with the army’s name on it; Shaw wore camouflage pants.

Petrie told the Associated Press from behind bars at the Canape Vert police station shortly after his arrest that he was “friends with the guys.”

Petrie said, “These guys are working for the betterment of the country.”

Petrie was featured in a 2010 Beacon Journal article published days after a devastating earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince. At the time, he was getting ready to fly to the capital to find out if relatives of his then-wife, Aslyne, had survived.

Petrie also was concerned about orphans in Haiti that he supported.

He said in 2010 that he first traveled to Haiti three months after graduating from Barberton High School in 1991. Soon he was volunteering at an orphanage.

In 1999, he met Aslyne. Their son Moses, 11, was born in Port-au-Prince in September 2000. They have another son, Spartacus, 4. By spring 2001, the family had settled in Barberton.

Since the 2010 earthquake, Petrie has resumed living in Haiti.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.