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Under threat, the police officers who had arrested Fednel Monchery are fleeing Haiti

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Accused of massacres of civilians, Fednel Monchery was released by the authorities. Two of the police officers who took part in his arrest have already left Haiti

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Exhausted, Saint Pierre Straly was lying on his back, on the evening of February 16, 2021. The policeman’s wife and five children were occupying the other rooms of his modest house outside Port-au-Prince when suddenly crackles of bullets exploded the calm of the night. It was ten or eleven o’clock in the evening.

Soon, the policeman nicknamed “Pastor” understands that he has been spotted, and his family is now within reach of his powerful enemies. Three days earlier, he and five other colleagues had led the spectacular arrest of Fednel Monchery, a former director general of the Ministry of the Interior and Local Government, who was battling the justice system for his alleged involvement in the La Saline massacre in November 2018. 71 civilian victims were murdered in the disaster attributed to the government in place at the time.

When the justice of the peace arrived at Straly’s house on the morning of the day after the attack, the living room of the house, riddled with bullets, looked like a strainer. But no injuries or fatalities were to be deplored.

Attacked in his home, threatened on the phone and let go by his superiors, the Police Agent Level 1, who had already been forced to live far from his family, left Haiti on September 23, 2021. Another member of his team will follow in his footsteps in October 2021. And today, the last four members of the “intrepid Team Pastor”, known to pursue organized criminals, especially the big fish, are trying to flee Haiti for safety, because of the renewal of threats since the reappearance of Fednel Monchery in the press in recent months.

“I left my country because of insecurity,” Saint Pierre Straly told AyiboPost in a telephone interview. I would have died if I hadn’t run away,” he says.

After his first six months at the head of the police institution, on May 9, 2022, the director Frantz Elbe, had revealed an avalanche of departures in the ranks of the police. At least 1,000 police officers were not responding to the roll call, and “some of them left the country,” he said. However, the head of the institution did not address the thorny issue of political interference, extrajudicial releases under pressure, and the need to continually defend police troops, who were demoralized while doing work that was necessary, poorly paid, and exhausting.

“I left my country because of insecurity,” Saint Pierre Straly told AyiboPost in a telephone interview. I would have died if I hadn’t run away,” he says.

“The attack on my family is linked to the arrest of Fednel Monchery,” says Saint Pierre Straly. He says he was the most influential and well-known member of the team. “Abandoning the institution was not my goal, but I no longer had a choice.”

Monchery, a former official in Jovenel Moïse’s administration, was not available on his phone before this article was published. In 2020, he was sanctioned by US authorities along with G9 leader Jimmy Cherizier and Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan, a former departmental delegate of the President, for their alleged involvement in massacres of civilians. His lawyers asked for a change of judge, which automatically referred the case to the now dysfunctional Court of Cassation, an executive at the Ministry of Justice told AyiboPost.

***

“Fednel Monchery was trembling, during his arrest,” testify two police officers, present in the Lalue neighborhood, during the events on Saturday, February 13, 2021 around 9 am. The former general director of the Ministry of the Interior, dismissed by Jovenel Moïse on September 25, 2019, eleven months after the Massacre of the Saline, was in a black Toyota car, registered in the name of Rosemila Saint-Vil Petit-Frère, then mayor of Arcahaie.

Presented as close to Prime Minister Ariel Henry, Rosemila Saint-Vil Petit-Frère had paraded with armed men in the streets of Arcahaie, the day before the celebrations of May 18, 2022. Today, without an official position in the government, Fednel Monchery uses for his travels in Port-au-Prince a Toyota Land Cruiser registered to the government according to two independent sources.

“We told him to accompany us to the Port-au-Prince police station” on the day of his arrest, recalls the former policeman, Saint Pierre Straly.

Fednel Monchery complies. He gives up the driver’s seat to get on the passenger side. Straly takes the wheel, and does not handcuff the former official, “so as not to cause a scandal”.

A little further down from the traffic lights of Avenue John Brown, Monchery panics. He offered the police 50,000 US dollars, including 10,000 cash, for his immediate release, without any legal proceedings. Straly refuses. Two other police officers from the detachment confirm this version of events.

Arrived at the Olympic market, a slight traffic jam slows down the convoy of three cars, two of which are occupied by the police. Monchery, more and more agitated, looks from both sides of the street. And suddenly, he opens the door and rushes on foot into the alley at Berne Street. “He was quickly recaptured with the help of the population,” reports one of the policemen. “From that moment on, he was handcuffed.”

The “Team Pastor” patrol was welcomed by visibly stressed superiors at the Port-au-Prince police station. The old official plate on the car, which had already been banned from use by orders of the Léon Charles, then the Police Director General, was replaced at the police station with a private plate. In fact, not less than three different plates had been seized from the car by the police.

“I received two calls to release Fednel Monchery, we must release him,” Chief Commissioner Xavier Séide told Straly. The pressure mounted. Sympathizers flocked to the police station. A man, dressed in a pink shirt [the PHTK party color], walked past the police, and said on the phone: “President, we are there. He will be released very quickly.”

And less than 30 minutes after his arrest, Fednel Monchery is free to leave. The excuse given to the press: the irregular plate, prohibited from circulation, is only a misdemeanor, not punishable by physical detention.

Experts contradict this interpretation. In addition to the La Saline massacre, “the police could legally detain Fednel Monchery for at least 48 hours for a number of things, including the high number of license plates found in his car, which is similar to the modus operandi of the kidnappers,” a legal expert told AyiboPost. He requested anonymity because of the dangerousness of the subject. Xavier Séide had promised to call AyiboPost on June 5, 2022. He had not responded to further requests for interviews.

Read also : Under threat, the police officers who had arrested Fednel Monchery are fleeing Haiti

Since Ariel Henry’s rise to power, Fednel Monchery has gone on the offensive and threats against the police officers who arrested him have intensified, four of them confirm. While he had had virtually no public life after his judicial involvement in the La Saline massacre case, the former director held at least four press conferences in 2022.

“Every time I hear Fednel speak in the media, it makes me uncomfortable as a police officer,” said an officer who requested anonymity for security reasons. If we find another wanted criminal, how will we have the courage to arrest him?” the man continues. “Impunity is built at the highest level of the state and as police officers, we are not spared.”

***

On June 12, 2022, Haiti’s National Police celebrated its 27th anniversary. Irregular political intrusions into its operations and releases outside of legal process top the list of police concerns, according to testimonies collected by AyiboPost from a dozen officers on duty. These actions demoralize law enforcement. But worse. They put them at risk.

At the beginning of 2021, a police patrol in Port-au-Prince received a disturbing alert: a white Prado allegedly shot at a police car at Martissant.

The “backup” led by Saint Pierre Straly was placed at the entrance of the area and quickly intercepted a white Prado. Four heavily armed individuals occupied the car. “Hands up gentlemen! If you move, we will riddle the car with bullets,” shouted one of the officers of the detachment.

To the surprise of the police, the representative Stevenson Jacques Thimoléon was among the individuals apprehended. They were handcuffed and taken to the police station in Port-au-Prince, according to two of the police officers present.

Of the weapons seized, including a “Galil” automatic rifle, belonging to the police, only one held a legal document: it belongs to Thimoléon, but its license had been expired for months according to testimonies collected by AyiboPost. Soon, the police station received a call and the scoundrel was released. The Galil remained at the Port-au-Prince police station. AyiboPost could not trace the path of the other weapons. Attempts to obtain Thimoleon’s reaction were unsuccessful.

From January to June 2022, between 20 and 25 police officers were murdered, according to Lionel Lazarre, coordinator of the National Union of Haitian Police Officers.

In reality, officers constantly live with the thought that they could end their day in a morgue. Obviously, the primary threat comes from organized crime and clashes with armed gangs that control up to 60% of the territory, according to the highest estimates. The threat also comes from other police officers, who play both sides : the regular side and the crime side.

But more than these two factors, it is the impunity and influence of powerful businessmen and politicians that worries the ranks of the police. “The authorities and the chiefs don’t like it when you work seriously, it’s not in their interest,” said an active police officer. It discourages me,” he says.

On April 17, 2012, police officer Walky Calixte was murdered after his team seized an illegal weapon in the possession of a relative of a representative during a routine check. The parliamentarian, Rodriguez Séjour, had threatened the policeman with death before his murder. At the time, the courts unsuccessfully requested the waiver of the immunity of two representatives in the case, Séjour and Nzounaya Jean Baptiste Bellange. Even today, this case rests in the drawers of the judicial institution, while two other police officers of the team were subsequently killed, in murky circumstances, amounting to the elimination of witnesses. The lawyer for the family of police officer Walky Calixte was André Michel, now an influential supporter of Ariel Henry’s government.

The weak support at the level of the institution’s leadership is also a problem.

On the morning of March 12, 2021, police officers from several specialized units of the HNP landed in Village-de-Dieu to try to dislodge the armed gang that controls this neighborhood at the southern entrance of Port-au-Prince. The operation ended with the brutal execution of five officers, a dozen others wounded, an armored HNP vehicle set on fire and another confiscated by gang members.

According to reports, the police institution paid a large sum to be able to recover the armored vehicle after the operation turned into a fiasco. Interviewed by AyiboPost, one of the police officers present on the spot recalls the “humiliation” of the broadcast of the videos of the lynching of his comrades. “We do a job involving weapons, so we know everything is possible,” begins the policeman. “But by recovering only the armored vehicle and not the corpses, the institution has shown us what constitutes its priority, it is demoralizing.”

This policeman will not wait for the next operation of the HNP in the neighborhood controlled by the men of Izo. ” I won’t be in Haiti by the end of June 2022,” he said.

Dozens of messages reviewed by AyiboPost demonstrate the open and insinuated threats addressed to Team Pastor, after the arrest of Fednel Monchery. “Fednel is our daddy, we are coming after you to eat you,”  one of the policemen received by SMS. Other agents report anonymous calls and one of them, through an informant, has had confirmation that Team Pastor is closely monitored by “a spy”.

Saint Pierre Straly addressed the chief commissioner, Xavier Séide, to inform him of the threats after the release of Fednel Monchery. According to Straly’s testimonies, Commissioner Xavier Séide, now in charge of the Motorized Brigade, made a call in his presence: “Put a rope around the neck of your dogs, because my men did a good job,” Séide reportedly told the person on the other end of the line.

Straly returned home that day. And in the evening, around ten or eleven o’clock, crackles of bullets exploded the calm of his modest home, outside the capital.

English translation by Didenique Jocelyn.

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Widlore Mérancourt
Widlore Mérancourt est éditeur en chef d’AyiboPost et contributeur régulier au Washington Post. Il détient une maîtrise en Management des médias de l’Université de Lille et une licence en sciences juridiques. Il a été Content Manager de LoopHaïti.

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