Frankfort man helps free two Americans from Haiti prison
By DONNA VICKROY email@example.com July 9, 2012 9:04PM
John Shattuck, a Frankfort businessman who has helped arrange for many donations to Haiti, looks over a photo of Steven Shaw while at his residence in Frankfort, IL on Monday, July 9, 2012. Shaw is one of two men Shattuck helped get released from a Haitian penitentiary. The photo of Shaw was taken when they arrived in Miami. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media .
Updated: August 11, 2012 6:17AM
Though he was back in the safety and comfort of his Frankfort home, John Shattuck was ill at ease Monday morning.
A man’s life still hung in the balance.
On Friday, Shattuck — a local businessman, father of two and longtime humanitarian for poverty- and earthquake-ravaged Haiti — had done what so many others could not or would not: He helped secure the release of two Americans from Haiti’s overcrowded and dangerous national penitentiary.
Though they faced a laundry list of charges, Shattuck believed both Jason William “Zeke” Petrie, 39, and Steven Parker Shaw, 57, to be innocent. He also believed the men would not have survived much longer holed up in the bed- and toilet-less cell they shared with 107 other prisoners.
Not only were they locked up with some of Haiti’s most notorious criminals, but Petrie, a diabetic, needed regular insulin injections.
“He went into diabetic shock at least twice during this time,” Shattuck said.
Petrie and Shaw, both longtime relief workers in Haiti, were arrested May 18 after a pro-army demonstration in Port-au-Prince.
Both men insisted they were simply hired to be drivers for foreign journalists during the rally. But after the parade turned ugly, Haiti’s special police began rounding up participants.
“They were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Shattuck said. “Really, they made some stupid mistakes.”
Shattuck, chairman of the board for Friends of the Orphans Midwest, a Chicago-based funding arm for the nonprofit Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, learned about the incident through friends of friends on Facebook. He quickly began his own investigation.
“Many of us who work in Haiti know each other, or of each other,” he said. “I’d heard of these guys and their work but I had never met either.”
Shattuck emphasized he was not acting on behalf of NPH or any of the many other organizations he supports with regular deliveries of medical, school and building supplies.
“This is just something I had to do on my own,” Shattuck said. “It has been nerve-racking and it has consumed my life for the past six weeks.”
A history of kind work
Shattuck said he reached out to Petrie’s family, offering his assistance. To convince them of his credibility, he directed them to a series the SouthtownStar published in February about Shattuck’s work in Haiti.
“Once they read about the kind of work I do there, they realized I was legitimately trying to help them,” Shattuck said.
Shattuck said he also rounded up as many influential Haiti-based friends as he could.
“I called in a lot of markers,” he said. “But everything was honest and truthful. Everything was legal. It came down to simply getting someone to listen to the truth.”
The men had been accused of conspiracy, criminal association and eventually attempted murder.
Ben Petrie said his brother, Zeke, was known in Haiti as a “fixer,” someone who takes foreigners around the country. Many of his clients are journalists.
“He speaks fluent Creole,” Ben Petrie said. “Taking people around Port-au-Prince and into Cite Soleil is how he makes his living.”
Upon learning of Zeke’s incarceration, Ben Petrie said, the family was immediately concerned for Zeke’s health.
“He could have easily died there,” Ben Petrie said.
“Thank God for John Shattuck and the others. They followed the law to the letter to get them released,” Ben Petrie said.
On the Fourth of July, with a houseful of people on their way over, Shattuck got a call that the judge was ready to act. He left for Haiti that night.
Two days later, Judge Bredy Fabien ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to hold the men any longer and they were released.
Not a moment too soon, Shattuck said. Zeke Petrie had been relying on friends to bring insulin to the jail. Friends of both men brought food. One of those friends ended up being arrested and imprisoned for helping the Americans.
Shattuck said, “These guys survived this long only because they’ve spent so much time in Haiti.”
More drama after release
They had a lot of friends in Haiti and were recognized as humanitarian workers by many of the other prisoners, but that didn’t prevent some from glaring at the two white men while running their pointer fingers horizontally across their necks, signaling they’d be killed.
The drama didn’t end with their release.
Shattuck said they spent a nerve-racked Friday night laying low, hoping there wasn’t a reversal of charges — something that very well could happen in the unstable Third World country.
Shattuck’s wife, Toni, had warned, “You’ve used up seven of your nine lives. Don’t push it.”
Both he and Shaw, of Dighton, Mass., were able to take the first flight out Saturday.
Two days later, Shattuck was sitting in his family room, anxiously awaiting word that Zeke Petrie would make one of three flights that had been booked for him that day.
“I haven’t slept the past four days,” Shattuck said. “I just need to hear that Zeke got on a plane today.”
Zeke Petrie, of Barberton, Ohio, was not able to take the same flight as Shattuck and Shaw because his passport was either lost or had been stolen.
“I had to get Steve out of the country while I could,” Shattuck said. He left Petrie at a safe hotel until he could head to the U.S. Embassy first thing Monday. In the meantime, Shattuck had Petrie’s mother send copies of her son’s birth certificate.
Finally, about 12:30 p.m. Monday, Shattuck’s phone rang. It was a friend confirming that Petrie had gotten on the day’s first flight out of Port-au-Prince.
Shattuck thanked the caller, hung up and excused himself from the room.
When he returned, tears in his eyes, he said, “He’s on board. It’s over.”
When asked why a guy from Frankfort would risk his life to help two guys he’d never met, Shattuck said, “I just saw this ending with two Americans dying in a Haitian prison. When you see something wrong in the world, don’t look the other way; try to fix it.”