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Published: Wednesday, 6/3/2009

Former person of interest in missing-girl case wants an apology

BY MARK REITER AND JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

MONROE The 64-year-old grandfather who was questioned and then cleared in the disappearance of Nevaeh Buchanan told The Blade Tuesday he was wrongly targeted by police and forced to sleep on the floor in a jail cell.

James Easter said his only connection to the missing 5-year-old girl was a visit he made to the North McComb Street apartments where she went missing 10 days ago.

Because I park where they found the scooter, they used that for the thing to say I must have been the one because the scooter was near where I parked, he said.

Mr. Easter was arrested early Saturday and taken into custody as a person of interest in the girl s disappearance after he started a fire in the backyard of his Oak Street home.

He was released Monday night from the Monroe County jail after he posted $250 bond for a misdemeanor charge related to the fire.

Nevaeh was reported missing by her mother, Jennifer Buchanan, about 8:30 p.m. May 24. She was last seen riding the scooter in the parking lot outside of the Charlotte Arms apartments.

Mr. Easter said he drove to the apartment complex in the days after the girl s disappearance to pick up his girlfriend, Janie Austin, a resident of the complex, because she needed a ride to go shopping. He said that visit may have raised the suspicions of investigators.

Ms. Austin declined to comment Tuesday night.

Mr. Easter said he was unjustly treated by authorities and said FBI agents and the task force investigating the missing girl owe him an apology. I kept telling them I did not do this thing, he said.

He said authorities had dropped him off at his home early Saturday after questioning him about his whereabouts when Nevaeh came up missing and his activities before and after she vanished.

He said he presented receipts for purchases he made at Kmart, Wal-Mart, and Lowe s on the days in question.

They showed dates where I was, he said.

After being dropped after questioning, Mr. Easter said he went into his duplex, peeked outside to make sure they were gone, and waited about 10 minutes to go outside to start a fire in a pit in the backyard.

I happened to gather some of the receipts because they were through looking at them, and because he wanted to have a little fire in his fire ring, he decided to burn them inside a TV dinner box, he said.

I did not think much of it, he added.

Within minutes, authorities arrived in his backyard, put out the fire, and took Mr. Easter into custody.

Boxes of items, including photographs of Mr. Easter s granddaughter, home movies, a video camera, and receipts that he put aside because he thought they were important to police, were taken during a search of his home.

The FBI checked to see if I had anything to do with children or playgrounds or children in any place ... What they noticed was the home movies. They were not porn. They were like my dogs in wintertime and summertime ... he said.

In their search for potential evidence, Mr. Easter said authorities tossed furniture, and smudged walls, doors, and appliances with black fingerprint powder, and removed covers from cushions on the couch.

This place is in shambles. Smudges all over. They left a mess, he complained. That s a horrible way to check my belongings when I am not here. They did it incorrectly, and they were unjustified.

Mr. Easter said his truck was towed from his home by authorities to comb the vehicle for DNA evidence.

The only thing they are going to find is dog hair or possibly hair from my daughter who needed a ride to and from the Laundromat, he said.

He said his dogs Skeeter, Sam, and Dazz were taken and he was told it will cost $20 each to get them back.

Mr. Easter said he told investigators that he would take a polygraph test to answer any questions because if he refused, it would make him look guilty.

He also said that during the many hours of questioning authorities asked what he believed may have happened to the girl. He said he offered them a hypothetical scenario of how an abduction of a young girl could be carried out at the apartment complex by hiding behind large trees nearby.

Mr. Easter said he became upset after learning there were rumors circulating that he had confessed to abducting Nevaeh.

He said during his almost three days in custody he was fed only bits of potatoes topped with cream cheese and small portions of ham.

You had to wait a long time for a sip of anything, he said.

Mr. Easter said he wasn t given a bed, but instead was forced to lie on a washcloth- thin blanket on the cell floor that was as comfortable as sleeping on a concrete sidewalk. I did not even have a pillow, he said.

Monroe County Sheriff s Capt. Dan Motylinski said he was unaware of the conditions in which authorities left Mr. Easter s home after their search and that if Mr. Easter has issues with the way the search was conducted or his treatment while in custody at the jail, he can make a complaint with the sheriff s office.

In a press conference Tuesday, Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield issued an appeal for the drivers of two vehicles who may be able to provide information about Nevaeh s disappearance.

A silver minivan that witnesses said was occupied by a woman and two small children who were at Hollywood Elementary playground near the apartment complex is being sought.

Sheriff Crutchfield also asked that the driver of a green, box-style minivan that was seen in the parking lot at the elementary school come forward.

He said that the task force of local, state, and federal authorities investigating the missing girl received numerous calls about green vans near the complex, and help was needed to refine the search for the vehicle, which could be similar to a Chevrolet Astro or Ford Windstar.

We are also asking that anyone who was at the Hollywood School playground between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. May 24 to contact us, he said.

Contact Mark Reiter at:markreiter@theblade.comor 419-724-6199.



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