Details Provided in Athens “Slave House” Case

| August 23, 2015


ATHENS — Authorities are looking into allegations an Athens woman who ran an unlicensed personal care home for people with special needs may have also sexually abused residents at the home. Among allegations contained in a recently filed search warrant, 55-year-old Emma Lois Heard took a woman suffering from schizophrenia to Atlanta to have sex with men. She also allegedly filmed sexual acts performed by the woman and men living in the home at 200 Landor Drive in west Athens.

The allegations were made by the daughter of the woman with schizophrenia, who told police “Heard is sometimes paid in illegal drugs for sexual acts by the residents,” according to the warrant filed last month in Clarke County Superior Court.

Authorities raided the house on Landor Drive in May, at which time they said they found four men who were allegedly being held there against their will. They were all described as special needs persons and clients of Advantage Behavioral Health Systems. Police said they learned from an official with Advantage that none of those men had been to an appointment in four years with the Athens-based mental healthcare provider.

According to police, Heard lured residents to her house after meeting them on the Internet. She charged residents $300-400 to stay at the house, police said, and had residents sign over their Social Security checks and give their EBT cards.

Police said Heard operated the illegal personal care home for years and they believe there were other victims not yet identified.

Several local and state agencies participated in the May raid of the house on Landor Drive, after the Athens-Clarke County Police Department had over the course of two years fielded several complaints concerning conditions at the house. Following the raid, Heard was charged with four counts of false imprisonment, one count of elder abuse, and one felony count of operating an unlicensed personal care home. Officials said more charges will likely be sought when the case is brought before a grand jury.

Heard was held at the Clarke County Jail for more than two weeks before she posted a total bond of $20,000 and was released. She has yet to enter a formal plea to the charges at a court arraignment.

Authorities were aware of allegations of suspicious activity at the house on Landor Drive as long as two years ago. However, there was insufficient evidence at the time to secure a search warrant to substantiate the allegations.

The raid at the 200 Landor Drive home was apparently prompted by a former resident of the home who on May 5 told police Heard was “running a slave house.” He said Heard was keeping men with special needs drugged-up and locked in the basement, according to a police report.

During the raid, authorities found four men at Heard’s house. They were said to be 52 to 71 years old, in good physical health, but with “mental issues.” Police described conditions at the illegal personal care home as “unlivable” and among the worst they’d ever seen. The men were said to be confined to a basement described as a tall crawl space. They allegedly had no access to a bathroom and used 5-gallon buckets in which to relieve themselves. Police said they found a few bottles of water in the house, but no food.

The men were sometimes allowed into the back yard, which was surrounded by an 8-foot fence and padlocked from the outside, police said. They were subsequently placed in the care of Adult Protective Services.

A request by the Athens Banner-Herald for police reports found complaints about possible illegal activities at 200 Landor Drive that went back more than a year. According to one police report, someone called police in June 2014 to report having heard from a woman who said people were “being held hostage and being forced to take pills.”

Police at the time attempted to conduct a welfare check at the residence, but no one was home and no one could be heard inside the house. The woman who allegedly told of people being held hostage could not be contacted, according to the report.

Five months later, in November 2014, a woman reported to police someone impersonated her when picking up prescription medication at a local pharmacy. She named Heard as the suspect. She further told police she formerly lived with Heard, who allegedly “used to abuse her in various ways” and gave “her and other girls crack and prostituting them out.”

The search warrant filed last month indicates Athens-Clarke County police knew of allegations of wrongdoing concerning Heard as early as May 2013. A detective then learned a man suffering from a mental handicap was allegedly “lured with alcohol and drugs into being ‘cared for’ by Ms. Heard,” according to the warrant. In an interview, the man told the detective he was held against his will for two weeks at the Landor Drive residence. He told the detective he was at the Triangle Plaza in east Athens when approached by Heard, who asked him if he wanted to have “fun.”

According to the warrant, the man said after buying liquor and beer, Heard took him to Landor Drive, where he blacked out and later woke up naked in a locked room. He alleged he remained in the room for several days, with Heard periodically giving him food and alcohol. When he demanded to go home, she allegedly pointed a gun to his head and told him he wasn’t going anywhere, the warrant states.

The man said he was “freed” after he and Heard went to a bank and withdrew $730 from his account. He said he was reluctant to call police because he did not think anyone would believe him, according to the warrant.

When the detective interviewed Heard, she was said to be in possession of five EBT cards belonging to residents at the house on Landor Drive.

“Ms. Heard explained that she just manages these cards while her live-in ex-husband has them under his name,” according to the warrant.

“(The detective) noted that allegation (sic) of abuse of the elderly appears to have some merit,” the warrant states. It does not indicate what further investigation, if any, was done at the time.

Athens Banner-Herald

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