JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A man was arrested Friday after 10 physically and mentally handicapped residents between the ages of 46 and 62 were found locked inside a Jacksonville home, unable to leave, police said.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said the rooming house at 1346 Agnes St. was previously licensed as a group home, but that the business license fee hadn't been paid since 2011.
When officials arrived at the house, Atakelte Admasu told them he was the owner of the property and manager of the group home.
Admasu posted bond and was back home Monday night. New4Jax spoke to Admasu who denied JSO's claims.
"I didn't do anything wrong, I didn't do anything wrong," he said
Hailey: "Were you falsely imprisoning disabled adults?"
Atakelte Admasu: "No, never. I've been here 10 years working in here, working in here and I never intentionally or anything trying to harm anybody in here you know."
The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department told Admasu that they were there for an inspection following a complaint of unsafe practices and fire safety violations. Admasu agreed to walk through the premises and answer any questions.
According to JSO, while inspecting the main house, officers found two people sleeping in a back room, accessible only from the back of the house, with only a mattress and no bedding, bathroom or smoke detectors. Those in the room were reportedly using a soda bottle in the corner of the room in which to urinate and were unable to leave the room because the door was locked from the outside.
JSO officials reported that although Admasu denied keeping the door locked, they could hear him unlocking it while they were attempting to open it. He told officials he locked the door from the outside because he "did not want people sneaking out at night" because of a 9:30 p.m. curfew, police said.
Officers found that all of the home's kitchen cupboards, the refrigerator and the freezer had been padlocked, preventing any resident from eating or drinking unless they purchased food with personal funds, which they received once a month.
But Admasu said that's not true. He said those locks also prevent his tenants from eating what they're not supposed to.
"I have people with mental issues so if I leave it open and go to the restroom, they take out and throw everything that's for safety everything for safety," he said.
Officers also found that all exits along the perimeter of the fence were locked with padlocks, to which none of the residents had keys. Additionally, a large metal bench was blocking a door and would have prevented anyone from leaving the home in an emergency.
The JFRD fire chief ordered a cease-and-desist order and closed the home immediately.
The Department of Children and Families was notified and removed the 10 tenants.
Admasu was arrested and charged with false imprisonment and negligence of disabled adults.