BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – THIS writer strongly believes that at some point in time many people in the Federation had watched and may still be watching past episodes of Cold Case Files on TV.
Among these series are Dateline Mystery, American Justice, 48 Hours, Forensic Files, FBI Files and Unusual Suspects.
Before explaining the reason for choosing this very important topic for discussion, let me first state what is meant by the term Cold Case.
According to merriam-webster.com, Cold Case is defined as “an unsolved criminal investigation (as of a homicide or abduction) that has stopped being actively pursued because of a lack of evidence”.
And according to Google: “IT is said that a cold case is a crime, or suspected crime, that has not yet been fully resolved and is not the subject of a recent criminal investigation, but for which new information could emerge from new witness testimony, re-examined archives, new or retained material evidence, as well as fresh activities of the suspect.”
The reason for choosing this topic is to highlight what the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force did last month and what might be some of the consequences.
On Tuesday, January 14, 2020, members of the Anti-Narcotics Unit had destroyed a very large number of illicit drugs, including 124 packages of cocaine that were seized late last year.
The 124 packages of cocaine were seized aboard a yacht that ran aground in Sandy Point on Sunday, November 3, 2019 during a joint operation by members of the Police Force, Customs and Excise Department, St. Kitts-Nevis Defence Force and the Coast Guard.
The cocaine had an estimated street value of over EC$12M and was described as one of the largest drugs bust in the history of St. Kitts and Nevis.
At the time of the bust, police had informed that a suspect was being sought, but Sergeant Carlene Phipps, who oversees the Anti-Narcotics Unit, disclosed on Tuesday (Jan. 14) that no arrests had been made in the case.
After hearing about the drugs bust, the seeking of a suspect and the destruction of the evidence, this particular case had attracted this writer's attention and it has certainly raised more questions than answers.
During a recent interview with WINN FM, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Adolph Adams said the Force had destroyed the cocaine because they had reached a dead end in
“We made a determination after the case had been disposed or where we had come to a dead end like in an investigation and we feel we could go no further. We make a decision, rather than keep those kinds of contraband, expensive contraband on our premises, we opted to burn them or destroy them.”
Asked what would happen now to the case knowing that the drugs have been burnt, ACP Adams reiterated that they had reached a dead end, adding that “we were not able to establish an identity as to who exactly was on the boat”.
He stated that the vessel was involved in a crime in the Federation and “we were called out by a number of persons in the community who saw the boat and saw things that were going on looking suspicious. We responded. The person was able to elude us and the only thing that we could say is that the boat left from somewhere in the Windward Islands, a number of persons were on the boat and the boat ended up in the Federation. We could not say directly who were on the boat”.
ACP Adams was also asked if information turns up in the future that links to this case and knowing that the evidence was destroyed, how would the police go forward with it?
In his response, Adams said that the question was a difficult one “but we have a situation where we think that we would not go any further with the case based on the fact we could not have identified or we could not have put someone on the boat. And if we do not have a person to charge for an offence, we thought it was best for at least close the case”.
He further stated that, generally, in terms of evidence destruction, “if we do not have a case to go forward with, rather than keep it there for an extended period of time and cause something else to happen, we feel more comfortable in destroying that type of evidence…Not withstanding that, our investigation did not just stay in St. Kitts. Our investigation was in international waters. We reached out to other countries in order to find this person who may have left wherever and come to St. Kitts, and the information was not forthcoming”.
ACP Adams pointed out that their investigation suggested that the yacht might have been headed for St. Maarten with a stop-over in Dominica.
This was confirmed by Sergeant Phipps, who reportedly told WINN FM that the vessel was last registered to an individual in St. Maarten.
“The last registered owner for the yacht, MV Pixie, was Akeem Fahie of St. Maarten. But having investigated, investigations revealed that the boat was sold and, apparently, that person did not register the boat.”
The following is an analysis based upon what were disclosed by ACP Adams and Sergeant Phipps as well as the writer’s suggestions and recommendation:
1. As investigations revealed the name of the last registered owner of the yacht and where he resides or was residing, were attempts made to contact him with assistance from their counterparts in St. Maarten?
2. If the yacht had a stop-over in Dominica, did the captain report to the Immigration Authority of that island?
3. Vessels that depart from their registered jurisdiction for another country’s territorial waters or international waters, normally have a log book onboard. Was their one aboard the yacht, which could have provided much information?
4. What is the Police Force’s policy on evidence destruction?
In relation to the closure of the case because the Force had reached a dead end in its investigation, this writer strongly believes that the evidence should not have been destroyed and the matter should be treated as a cold case.
If incriminating evidence of the owner of the yacht and its illicit contents surfaces in the future, what evidence would be there to warrant a conviction?
Though the police had taken photos of the evidence, in court an experienced criminal lawyer would request the presence of the 124 packets of cocaine and present arguments for the inadmissibility of the photos.
A case in point was posted in a blog by John Floyd on September 11, 2016 headlined “Police Destruction of Evidence Leads to Dismissal of Cases in Harris County”.
Floyd stated that the Houston Chronicle had carried a report which stated that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office had dismissed 90 misdemeanor and felony drug cases because a local Constable’s Office “improperly destroyed evidence”.
The evidence destruction was brought to light when attorney Paul Morgan discovered that evidence in a case he was defending had been destroyed.
The reason reportedly offered by Constable Mark Herman for the destruction of the evidence was that one of his deputies was trying to clean up the department’s crowded property room and apparently decided the best way to accomplish that was to destroy evidence stored there.
As a result of his action, the deputy was banished from the law enforcement community.
“I did an internal affairs investigation at my office. Basically, we found he (committed) some very serious policy violation and I fired him immediately,” Herman reportedly told the Houston Chronicle.
Now that the case is closed, this writer would like to suggest that, based on the laws of the Federation, the yacht should be confiscated. It must either be sold and the proceeds go towards the Security Forces’ efforts in fighting crime, or converted to a patrol vessel and handed over to the Coast Guard.