How the Covid ‘sex party’ case in Trinidad collapsed

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How the Covid ‘sex party’ case in Trinidad collapsed

(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) — The raid which dominated the headlines on April 10 was described as the first of its kind by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Pictures and video footage of men and women lined up were provided by the TTPS alleging a sex party was taking place despite restrictions issued by the Ministry of Health.

The TTPS claimed the Public Health Regulations were breached by gathering in a group exceeding five people.

The TTPS said based on intelligence, they were able to abort a Covid-19 party on April 10, in which 12 people, including Venezuelan nationals, were arrested and subsequently charged with breach of Covid regulations.

Those charged with offences were Bruce Bowen, Christopher Wilson, Dominic Suraj, Colin Ramjohn, Marlon Hinds, Luz Marina Vargas Ibarra, Dana Fuentes Mudarra, Gresel Goncalez, Yulangi Del Carmen Prospertt Array, Luisneidis Marino and Mariangel Valle Lopez Ramos.

When the matter came up for hearing four weeks ago, it was dismissed because the police prosecution was not ready.

Shortly after the charges were dismissed by Magistrate Sarah De Silva, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith gave instructions for the magistrate’s decision to be appealed since, according to him, at all times the police prosecution was ready and prepared to proceed with the trials.

Court records, however, show this was not the case and the police did not comply with orders issued by the court.

Here’s how the matter started and ended in the case collapsing:

Following the arrest, all accused were taken to separate police stations.

That same day (April 10), the TTPS issued a news release indicating several persons were arrested at a Covid party at Alicia’s Guest House in St Ann’s.

The release further noted that based on intelligence, 50 businessmen were planning to attend a party at Alicia’s around 1 a.m., “but a marked police vehicle drove past earlier and may have rattled the promoters”.

The release noted, as a result, Griffith and his team had to move in earlier than planned.

“They arrived at Alicia’s in unmarked vehicles and were able to find the 16 persons around the pool, displaying no form of social distancing, involving Spanish-speaking women conducting lewd dancing, and all breaching the regulations as they relate to more than five persons being assembled in the same area.

“With the assistance of the CID and the Emergency Response Patrol (ERP), the 16 were transported to the three police stations as further investigations continue. Two of the persons were found to be in possession of keys for the premises…”

On April 14, they were charged with breaching Covid regulations.

Video appearance
According to court records, on April 15, the Venezuelans and Trinidadians faced Magistrate De Silva via video conference from the Besson Street Police Station.

Bail was denied for the seven Venezuelan nationals and they were remanded into custody until May 13.

The police complainant—Cpl Forgenie—was present, and indicated he was not on the scene at the time of the arrest.

On May 13, a bail application was made for the seven Venezuelans before Magistrate Rehanna Hosein via video link at the Golden Grove Women’s and Frederick Street prisons.

The complainant was not present during this hearing, and the bail application was successful.

The matter was adjourned to July 17, where an order was made for all disclosures to be handed over.

On July 17, court records noted Cpl Forgenie was absent from the hearing and the application for disclosure was again renewed.

A specific application was also made by attorney Renuka Rambhajan for the video and photographs taken at the scene and circulated on social media by the TTPS, as well as statements from the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) officers and all unused material.

The court prosecutor indicated she was not in possession of the file and was unaware of the number of statements and witnesses.

Court again orders disclosure
Magistrate De Silva ordered that the complainant submit the file within two weeks, on or before August 1, 2020, in addition to which an order was made that disclosure be inclusive of any and all video footage, unused material, statements on or before ­August 17.

The defence was also ordered to file and serve defence statements, witness requirements, agreed facts and list of defence witnesses on or before September 30, once the prose­cution complied.

The State was to provide disclosure by the next date of hearing.

The matter was adjourned to ­October 19.

On October 19, Cpl Forgenie was absent initially and the matter stood down for him to appear.

The police prosecutor indicated she had written to her seniors on September 14, asking for the matter to engage the Director of Public Prose­cutions (DPP) office, as there was a related civil matter and a judgment handed down by Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh for instructions on how to proceed.

Rambhajan objected to the application, as no disclosures were made, despite the court’s orders to have disclosure ready and served by the date of hearing.

The prosecutor also indicated she did not have the file to provide ­disclosure.

Court warned prosecution to be ready
Rambhajan asked whether there was a file and the complainant indicated he was in possession of the file which needed “one more statement”.

The defence argued that the TTPS was showing no interest in the case beyond its news release, and asked the court for specific directions to the TTPS.

The court again made another ­order for disclosure by the next date of hearing and fixed the matter for trial on November 20.

The prosecution was warned to be ready to proceed.

When the matter was called on November 20, the complainant was present along with police prosecutor Insp Rajesh Lall.

The court was told yet again that disclosures were not made to the ­defence.

Rambhajan told the court that no summary of evidence was disclosed and this was in breach of the Criminal Procedure Rules and the prosecution did not follow the court’s directions given since July 17.

Lall noted the State was not ready, and asked for an adjournment to send the file to the DPP’s office for a State attorney, “as it is a matter of public importance”.

He further cited the Police Standing Orders.

Rambhajan objected to the adjournment application.

The court indicated the matter was fixed from the last date for the file to be sent to the DPP’s office.

The matter was then dismissed for want of prosecution.

The court found the State did not abide by its directions and therefore was not in a position to start the trial.

In delivering her ruling, Magistrate De Silva said the interest of all parties involved had to be weighed and all parties ought to be treated fairly.

She said on the last occasion the prosecution was granted the adjournment and sought to have the file forwarded to the DPP’s office, but had taken no steps since then to have this done, only to return to court and ­request another extension.

“The Criminal Procedure Rules require that details (of the offence) be disclosed before even the first hearing. So far there have been several hearings and still there was no compliance. The prosecution has shown no regard for the court’s direction. Not even an iota of ­information that it is ready for trial,” stated the magistrate.

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