Política

Abel Resende april fools day fortnite//
State witnesses at risk

Abel Resende
State witnesses at risk

Ques­tions are be­ing raised about the mil­lions spent on the Jus­tice Pro­tec­tion Pro­gramme and whether it re­al­ly works to pro­tect whistle­blow­ers and wit­ness­es.

Abel Resende

The Jus­tice Pro­tec­tion Pro­gramme was for­malised in 2003 to pro­vide pro­tec­tion for state wit­ness­es giv­ing tes­ti­mo­ny in court mat­ters that may put their lives in dan­ger

It was reg­u­lat­ed and up­dat­ed by the Jus­tice Pro­tec­tion Act 2000, and the pro­gramme is sup­posed to pro­vide pro­tec­tion, new iden­ti­ties, new homes, meet liv­ing ex­pens­es and pro­vide fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance for par­tic­i­pants

Ac­cord­ing to the act, the State may pro­vide pro­tec­tion for a wit­ness of mur­der, sedi­tion, any mon­ey laun­der­ing of­fences, of­fences un­der the Pre­ven­tion of Cor­rup­tion Act and any sex­u­al of­fence, among oth­ers. It has been proven nec­es­sary to take these ex­treme mea­sures to pro­tect those who can bring down crim­i­nal em­pires—one ex­am­ple was the case of Spe­cial Re­serve Po­lice (SRP) Clint Hug­gins

In 1994, Hug­gins gave the State the tes­ti­mo­ny it need­ed to con­vict and ex­e­cute Nankissoon Boodram (Dole Chadee) and eight of his hench­men in the 90s. Drug lord and crime boss Chadee had pre­vi­ous­ly walked free on sev­er­al mur­der charges be­cause the state wit­ness­es had been mur­dered

$500 m in five years

In­for­ma­tion on the pro­gramme, its costs and the cur­rent num­ber of par­tic­i­pants are un­known as the TTPS have de­clined to com­ment, cit­ing safe­ty is­sues

Though the Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Min­is­ter Stu­art Young al­so re­fused to re­spond to ques­tions and calls, the Sun­day Guardian learned that from the pe­ri­od 2010 to 2015, an av­er­age of $100 mil­lion was be­ing spent an­nu­al­ly on the pro­gramme—a to­tal of $500 mil­lion for the five years—and its close to 200 par­tic­i­pants

In 2013, the then jus­tice min­is­ter Her­bert Vol­ney said there were 196 peo­ple in the pro­gramme, 83 of them were state wit­ness­es while the oth­er 113 were fam­i­ly mem­bers of those wit­ness­es

Speak­ing dur­ing a Joint Se­lect Com­mit­tee (JSC) meet­ing on Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty on Jan­u­ary 10, 2018, for­mer jus­tice min­is­ter Prakash Ra­mad­har said there were wit­ness­es who had been in the pro­gramme for over ten years

“It may sur­prise many to have learnt that in the Wit­ness Pro­tec­tion Pro­gramme there are per­sons who were giv­en the ben­e­fit of wit­ness pro­tec­tion and they have been in that sys­tem for more than 11 and 12 years,” Ra­mad­har said then

When con­tact­ed last week, Ra­mad­har said while the pro­gramme fell un­der his ju­ris­dic­tion, he had made rec­om­men­da­tions to have cas­es fast-tracked to ease the bur­den on the wit­ness­es and the State

What we had done was meet and speak to the Chief Jus­tice and the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions (DPP) to try to fast track those cas­es that would have in­volved peo­ple un­der pro­tec­tion be­cause we had so many peo­ple that need­ed to be kept in pro­tec­tive cus­tody,” Ra­mad­har said

He said the pro­gramme at that time was “use­ful but not ef­fi­cient”. Asked about the cost of the pro­gramme, Ra­mad­har said he es­ti­mat­ed the cost would have run in­to “tens of mil­lions of dol­lars”

“All the up­keep was borne by the State, in some cas­es it meant mov­ing en­tire fam­i­lies abroad, pay­ing for ac­com­mo­da­tions, meals, every­thing they would have need­ed.”

Re­spond­ing to Ra­mad­har dur­ing that JSC, Overand Pad­more, a for­mer na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty min­is­ter had said to get a han­dle on crime the TTPS needs to es­tab­lish more tech­nol­o­gy-re­lat­ed ev­i­dence and re­ly less on the “hu­man-wit­nessed” el­e­ment.

Abel Resende

“And re­al­ly, to get a han­dle on crime we need to be able to es­tab­lish more and more tech­nol­o­gy-re­lat­ed ev­i­dence and less and less hu­man-wit­nessed el­e­ment. No­body is go­ing to will­ing­ly come for­ward to serve as a wit­ness es­pe­cial­ly in these crimes of vi­o­lence, when (a) the pro­ceed­ings take as long as they do; and (b) you be­come a tar­get for the ac­cused. So that we have that prob­lem to deal with,” Pad­more said. “It is un­der­stand­able why peo­ple do not wish to come for­ward as wit­ness­es. They just do not feel se­cure and these things can take years and years be­fore they come to a res­o­lu­tion. Imag­ine, I have de­cid­ed I am giv­ing ev­i­dence in a mur­der case and the event might have been com­mit­ted in 2001, the man ar­rest­ed in 2002, and 2018 and the mat­ter is still not yet re­solved. What hap­pens to my life as a po­ten­tial wit­ness? I mean, it is—that is a crit­i­cal part of the prob­lem.”

When the Jus­tice Min­istry was dis­solved in 2015, the pro­gramme was moved to the Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Min­istry

But in a Par­lia­ment re­port on the min­istry’s ex­pen­di­ture, di­vi­sions and projects for 2018/2019, the Jus­tice Pro­tec­tion Pro­gramme was not men­tioned once

It was al­so not men­tioned in a sim­i­lar re­port on the TTPS for 2018/2019

Grif­fith: Noth­ing needs to be re­vamped, peo­ple need to be re­spon­si­ble

In an in­ter­view with the Sun­day Guardian, Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Gary Grif­fith in­sist­ed the pro­gramme is ef­fi­cient and dis­missed claims that par­tic­i­pants are put at risk while in the State’s care

“T&T is one of the few coun­tries in the world where the wit­ness pro­tec­tion pro­gramme has a 100 per cent record of no one be­ing hurt or killed in the pro­gramme,” Grif­fith said. “So in con­trast to what many peo­ple per­ceive, our wit­ness pro­tec­tion pro­gramme has been proven to be al­most fool­proof when it comes to harm be­ing tak­en out on any per­son who has been part of the pro­gramme.”

Grif­fith said the State can on­ly guar­an­tee a wit­ness’ safe­ty if they ad­here to the rules of the pro­gramme and ful­fil their side of the oblig­a­tion. Grif­fith di­rect­ed ques­tions about the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants in the pro­gramme to his Cor­po­rate Com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­part­ment

“Ob­vi­ous­ly for the pro­gramme to be suc­cess­ful, many in­di­vid­u­als must ad­here to the re­quire­ments—if per­sons want to con­tin­ue to use their phones, if per­sons want to in­vite oth­er per­sons to vis­it the safe house, if per­sons want to walk out of the pro­gramme and walk back in, they are not on­ly putting their own lives at risk but the lives of the po­lice of­fi­cers who are there to sup­port them,” Grif­fith said

“There is noth­ing that needs to be re­vamped or re­struc­tured, peo­ple need to ad­here to their oblig­a­tions and be re­spon­si­ble if they want to be part of the pro­gramme.”

How­ev­er, state wit­ness­es have com­plained that they live in trau­ma and fear since their lives are con­stant­ly at risk

When GML con­tact­ed head of the de­part­ment Na­dine Hack­ett, she said she was told that in­for­ma­tion can­not be shared with the pub­lic or the me­dia by the per­son who is in charge of the pro­gramme

Frus­tra­tions of a state wit­ness: ‘I live in con­stant fear’

Just a week ago, state wit­ness Jarvis Mark reached out to Guardian Me­dia in a fit of des­per­a­tion, say­ing his life is at con­stant risk in the pro­gramme

Mark said that his tes­ti­mo­ny against a po­lice of­fi­cer who al­leged­ly rent­ed out his ser­vice firearm to crim­i­nals in 2009 has changed his life for the worst. Mark said his frus­tra­tion with the pro­gramme has left him con­tem­plat­ing end­ing his own life

Dur­ing an in­ter­view at the Guardian Build­ing on St Vin­cent Street, Port of Spain, 35-year-old Mark said af­ter a brief stint in the pro­gramme in 2009, he re­joined it three years ago when an­oth­er at­tempt was made on his life at his home

“About three years ago, a gun­man came back for me at my home and that is how I re­joined the pro­gramme. I didn’t have any oth­er choice but to re­join it and since that it’s just tor­ment from these of­fi­cers,” he said. “I don’t know what to do, I am just re­al­ly frus­trat­ed with this pro­gramme. I reach to the lev­el of frus­tra­tion where I am think­ing about tak­ing my own life be­cause if I go home, I am a dead man. Sad to say, but if I go in my own house, I’m a dead man.”

Mark said he has been un­able to vis­it his four chil­dren for months and is left on his own when he at­tends court in San Fer­nan­do in an un­re­lat­ed mat­ter

“First­ly, I can’t get to see my kids at all, they know that the area where the chil­dren live are threat ar­eas for me but they are not tak­ing me to see them. San Fer­nan­do is a threat area as well for me. I have an on­go­ing court mat­ter, when I go to the court the judge is aware, she was con­fused about why they are pro­tect­ing me for one mat­ter but not for an­oth­er. The Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions’ of­fice is aware, they tried to reach out to the pro­gramme for them to bring me to and from court and the pro­gramme told them no.”

Shuf­fled from one hotspot to the next

He said he has been shuf­fled around from one “hotspot” to an­oth­er for the last three years and is left to fend for him­self with no su­per­vi­sion or pro­tec­tion from the pro­gramme. He is giv­en a month­ly al­lowance of $2,600 while the State pays for his ac­com­mo­da­tion

Two Fri­days ago, he spent the night in wide-eyed ter­ror when he heard gun­shots out­side his apart­ment. He said al­though he re­port­ed the gun­shots, no one checked on him or even re­turned his call

“Every sin­gle lo­ca­tion they put me, it is just hotspot ar­eas. Last Fri­day a guy was killed right out­side the build­ing that they had me, I called the of­fice and imag­ine I called and told them I heard bul­lets fir­ing out­side and hit­ting the house and they nev­er called me back

“I couldn’t sleep that night and came to find out the next morn­ing that some­one was mur­dered right in front. All the ar­eas are hotspot ar­eas, they are putting me in places and I am say­ing to my­self like they are try­ing to set me up or some­thing like that be­cause I can’t see the rea­son for them putting me, as a state wit­ness, in these hotspot ar­eas.”

He said when he was moved to his cur­rent lo­ca­tion, he was sim­ply dropped off by sev­er­al of­fi­cers and was told noth­ing about the place where he would be stay­ing

“No­body comes to check on me, the on­ly time I see them is the one day in the month when they are com­ing to drop that al­lowance and that is it. I will call them and tell them things that are hap­pen­ing at the lo­ca­tion—right now I am ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some things with the land­lord at the lo­ca­tion, she is just do­ing stuff, and I am telling my­self that maybe it is the pro­gramme telling her to do these things to frus­trate me so I will leave be­cause the pro­gramme it­self like it’s try­ing to frus­trate me in­to leav­ing.”

3 years lat­er, no pa­per­work

What fright­ens him the most is the fact that he is yet to be giv­en a copy of the Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing (MOU) that state wit­ness­es sign when en­ter­ing the Jus­tice Pro­tec­tion Pro­gramme

“I am in the pro­gramme over three years now and I have not signed any doc­u­ment that state I am a state wit­ness and they are putting me in all these hotspot ar­eas. If they come and kill me now, the pro­gramme could say I was nev­er a wit­ness be­cause there are no doc­u­ments to say oth­er­wise.”

He is now ques­tion­ing whether oth­er state wit­ness­es who get killed were al­so in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion to him

“Some­times when I hear state wit­ness­es get killed I start to study if this per­son was in the same sit­u­a­tion as me be­cause no­body don’t know if the per­son is a wit­ness or not, be­cause this pro­gramme is a se­cret to us be­cause we don’t know noth­ing about the pro­gramme, noth­ing about our rights. They just have us from apart­ment to apart­ment, just take what you get and you can’t say any­thing.”

His frus­tra­tion and fear have reached a boil­ing point and Mark said he was tired of fight­ing to stay alive

“I have reached a point now where I am reach­ing out to the me­dia, I have reached out to se­nior mem­bers in Par­lia­ment and I am still go­ing through the same dra­ma…I reached a point now where if I dead, so be it, I just re­al tired.”

The Clint Hug­gins case

Al­though he was a Spe­cial Re­serve Po­lice (SRP) of­fi­cer­Clint Hug­gins had been part of a Chadee hit squad sent to wipe out a Williamsville fam­i­ly on Jan­u­ary 10, 1994. He was be­lieved to be one of many in the TTPS who worked di­rect­ly for Chadee

Four months lat­er, he would give in­for­ma­tion to in­ves­ti­ga­tors that trig­gered the fall of Chadee’s em­pire, end­ing with his hang­ing death in 1999

An at­tempt on Hug­gins’ life was made while he was un­der the State’s pro­tec­tion in 1995 but af­ter a pub­lic ruse that the as­sas­si­na­tion was suc­cess­ful, po­lice were able to ar­rest three peo­ple who col­lect­ed the $1 mil­lion boun­ty Chadee had put on Hug­gins’ head

But Hug­gins’ own taste for free­dom led him to his death when he left his safe house on Feb­ru­ary 20, 1996. His body was found lat­er that day, shot, stabbed, burnt, and hang­ing out of a car on the Uri­ah But­ler High­way. De­spite his grue­some end, Hug­gins’ tes­ti­mo­ny was used by the State to con­vict and lat­er sen­tence Chadee and his gang to death by hang­ing