BAKER COUNTY, Fla. - Baker County detectives continued their investigation Thursday into a marijuana grow operation where they say a teen was chained in a room by his uncle.
Investigators dismantled the grow house inside a mobile home and removed the pot for evidence.
Detectives said they found a list of house rules that was posted on the door by 29-year-old Troy Howell for his two teen nephews and teen niece who lived with him. The list says no drugs, pot included, and no lying ever, something that surpised Sheriff Joey Dobson.
"I think a person that would do this to a child is a monter," Dobson said. "You would not treat a dog like this. You certainly would not chain a child."
Howell is accused of chaining up his 18-year-old nephew so he would not run to deputies and tell them about the drug operation investigators say he was running in a nearby trailer.
Investigators removed the chain from the trailer Thursday and closed down the grow house.
Howell made his first appearance in court and didn't say much. He is charged with various counts of child abuse and drug charges, including kidnapping and possession of a sawed-off shotgun, and is being held in the Baker County Jail without bail.
The child abuse detective who interviewed the three teens who lived with Howell said the 18-year-old was not tied up when deputies found him. He told her about that later.
"He said he was only chained up when the uncle left the house, otherwise he was locked in the room with a padlock," investigator Tracie Benton said.
She said the teens have been living with Howell for more than a year. Howell was taking care of them after their grandfather died. The 13-year-old girl told school officials what was happening to her brother, investigators said.
She saw her brother had been beaten and said she knew she had to get him out of there, investigators said.
Detectives said no one knew what was happening to the 18-year-old because he was never allowed to leave.
"Brandon said he was not allowed to attend school at all this year due to fear he would tell on his uncle," Benton said.
Kimberly Amundsen, who knows the family, said the teens always behaved nicely when she saw them. She said it has been a while and was surprised to learn what was happening to them.
"To know that the 18-year-old and him got into it like that, I never thought he would do something like that to a young one," Amundsen said. I figured he would put him out than risk doing something like that to a young one."
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