CRIME

Grandfather of special needs brothers kept in Rockville basement: ‘They weren’t imprisoned’

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ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) – The grandfather of two special needs brothers who were repeatedly locked inside a dark, unfurnished basement chamber, calls the alleged actions of their parents, "understandable."

ABC 7 News at 5

Janice Land, 59, right, and John Land, 57. (Photos: Montgomery County Police)

On Thursday, Montgomery County Police served a search warrant at John and Janice Land's home along the 1600 block of Crawford Drive in Rockville. Police were looking for drugs, but instead found the Lands’ two 22-year-old sons, who have autism, locked inside a tiny basement enclosure. Police arrested the Lands on charges of vulnerable adult abuse and attempted false imprisonment.

According to charging documents filed in Montgomery County District Court, police noticed an "overwhelming smell of urine coming from the room." There was no furniture for either brother to sit or sleep on, just a comforter covering the hard tile floor. There was also neither working electricity, nor smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. A tiny window was the only means of light, far too small for the brothers to crawl through in the case of an emergency, detectives say.

"They [twin brothers] have been provided with love, care and medical attention," grandfather John Land III told ABC 7 News. "They weren't imprisoned. This wasn't a cubbyhole of horror; it was for their own protection."

Land III said his two grandsons are extremely low on the autism spectrum, totally non-verbal and prone to running away.

"One child is super quiet, the other super active, but both suffer from extreme mood changes, which makes them break glass or slam their heads against walls," Land III stated. "You couldn't leave them alone for a minute or they would escape. Wherever they were, there had to be someone with them 24/7... there's just no two ways about it."

And so, while John Land worked as a maintenance supervisor at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Germantown, Janice Land stayed home, keeping a watchful eye over her sons. Yet at night, the couple, which has eight adult children in total, didn't trust their twin 22-year-olds to be left in an unlocked bedroom, Land III said.

"It's just a large, vacant room," Land III remarked. "It looked like a room, it didn't look like a prison. If you're going to sleep at night, that probably was the safest place for them and the family."

News headlines, which sent shockwaves through the local community, prompted top brass with the Montgomery County Police Department to hold a media conference Tuesday. There, investigators countered the family's claims of innocence and quality lodging.

"Does that sound like a reasonable solution, to lock two vulnerable adults in a room under those conditions at any point?" Montgomery County Police Dept. Asst. Chief Russ Hamill asked rhetorically. "That doesn't seem like a viable solution at any time."

Police confirm they've responded to the Lands’ home for a variety of reasons over the years, most recently in March. Yet officers never reported any signs of abuse or inadequate living conditions.

On Monday, family members could be seen cleaning and de-cluttering the modest one-story home, which the City of Rockville has since condemned. By Tuesday, a sea of stacked black garbage bags was in the home's front yard.

Without an inhabitable home, John Land and his wife, Janice, are currently staying at the Red Roof Inn along Shady Grove Road in Rockville. Although the couple wouldn't speak on camera, they vehemently denied any wrongdoing while held-up in their hotel room.

"My son is afraid for his maintenance job with MCPS [Montgomery County Public Schools]. He thinks he's on the verge of being fired. And when his wife saw the news on television, she nearly had a stroke," Land III added.

On Tuesday, the family retained an unnamed defense attorney for the husband and wife, who were released from jail Friday on $75,000 and $50,000 bonds, respectively.

"There was no hatred, no malice. They did the best they could under very trying circumstances, but, mark my words, they were loving, caring parents and they never abused the children. This is just one big mess," Land III concluded.

The Montgomery County Police Department offers an Autism Outreach program. To learn more about the services the dpartment provides for those with autism, contact Officer Laurie Reyes at Laurie.Reyes@montgomerycountymd.gov. If abuse of any kind is suspected, call 911.

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