Chief Prosecutor St. Maarten not amused by release of Simpson Bay detainees


PHILIPSBURG--Chief Prosecutor Hans Mos said Tuesday it was "very undesirable and awkward" that crime suspects are being released from detention because they cannot follow the daytime programme at Pointe Blanche prison to which they are entitled.

Mos said this in reaction to the Judge of Instruction ordering the immediate release Friday of three crime suspects who were held at the Simpson Bay Police substation.

Judge Coen Luijks lifted their detention because they had not been transported to Pointe Blanche prison to follow the daytime programme for detainees, which includes recreation.

The Prosecutor's Office had appealed Friday's Court decision to release L.G. (26) of St. Kitts, who is suspected of (armed) robbery and possession of an illegal firearm. However, the Appeals Court on Tuesday confirmed the Judge of Instruction's decision to order the man's release.

"This is very painful," said Mos. "The police have gone through a lot of trouble to arrest this man. He confessed to sixteen robberies. Because he cannot follow the day programme we were forced to release him. He has been handed over to the Immigration Department and will probably be sent home to St. Kitts. The only consolation we have is that he has been handed a summons to appear in Court on May 2 to face charges."

More bad news followed Tuesday with the Judge of Instruction also ordering the release of suspect V.W., who is allegedly involved in drugs. He was arrested March 29 in connection with 166 kilos of marijuana found inside a van which was parked at Le Grand Marché parking lot.

In a ministerial decree of December 21, 2011, Minister of Justice Roland Duncan designated the Simpson Bay Police substation and the new cells at the Philipsburg Police station as houses of detention for suspects awaiting their trial. In this decree the minister confirmed the right of detainees to be transported to Pointe Blanche to follow the day programme and to receive visitors during weekdays.

During the hearing of V.W.'s case, Prosecutor Gonda van der Wulp did not contest, and even admitted he was not transported to Point Blanche to follow the day programme. The Prosecutor, however, claimed this situation had been caused by events that had been out of the Prosecutor's Office's control.

She claimed the April 10 riot at the Simpson Bay substation had prevented V.W. from being transported to Pointe Blanche in a timely manner.

The Judge of Instruction rejected this argument in pointing at the fact that the riot had only taken place during part of that day, while the detainee had not been taken to Pointe Blanche for 10 days.

Chief Prosecutor Mos confirmed that detainees are entitled to certain facilities while being held in detention. "Detainees have the right to be taken to Pointe Blanche to make use of the prison facilities. This has not happened, possibly due to a lack of personnel."

He confirmed statements made by Prosecutor van der Wulp in Court that, in the meantime, a day programme has started in Simpson Bay.

Mos qualified the Judge of Instruction's sanction as being very severe. "One should also look at the merits of the case. In the past, persons who were held at the old police cells, which also didn't have a day programme, were compensated with a month reduction on their prison sentence for every week they had spent under such regime. The Judge of Instruction could have meted out a similar sanction in these recent cases, but instead ordered immediate release."

Mos also asked for some understanding for the situation under which justice officials have to work in young country St. Maarten. "The minister of justice is not a wizard. We still have to cope with the means that were provided by the former Netherlands Antilles, which have been very meagre. The situation with the old police cells has been rectified, and things are slowly improving. We are looking into possibilities to rectify the problems with the daily programme," the Chief Prosecutor said.

Prison director Rudsel Ricardo declined to comment or to answer any questions concerning the day programme and the transport of detainees. "This is a complicated situation in which all noses should be pointing in the same direction," he said in referring questions to the Chief Prosecutor.