US agent claims J'can fishermen were held for 600 lbs of ganjaTuesday, June 18, 2019
By Balford Henry
The five Jamaican fishermen picked up by United States Homeland Security investigators in September 2017 off the Haitian coast were charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute some 613 pounds of marijuana, according to an affidavit filed by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jesus Pertierra.
Pertierra, who filed the affidavit in the United States Southern District Court of Florida, said the charges followed an incident in which the fishermen were seen throwing bales overboard after they were spotted in a go-fast vessel approximately 12 nautical miles south-west of Navassa Island, on September 24, 2017.
Pertierra named the five men who are from St Ann as Robert Weir, the captain of the Jamaican vessel; Patrick Ferguson; David Williams; Luther Patterson; and George Thompson. However, more recent reports following the decision by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to file a lawsuit last Wednesday in Florida, claiming that the Coast Guard had improperly detained four Jamaicans, excluded Thompson. No mention has been made of him in local reports either, and there has been no indication of his whereabouts.
Pertierra's affidavit said that as the men were all citizens of Jamaica, they were transferred to Coast Guard vessel USCG Confidence, along with the suspected narcotics seized during the operation.
He said that the Jamaican authorities were consulted to determine the vessel's registry, which was confirmed, and the coast guard was authorised to board and search the vessel. However, he added that the Jamaican authorities later waived jurisdiction of the vessel, which was then deemed to be without nationality and subject to the jurisdiction of the US, causing a delay in deployment. The men were then taken to the US on October 16.
He also claimed that the agents who searched the vessel found no fishing gear, although the men insisted that they were fishing. The vessel, he said, had seven 20-gallon fuel drums and two 55-gallon fuel drums.
He said that the US Coast Guard also found several bales of marijuana which had been thrown overboard from the vessel.
However, Pertierra admitted that because his affidavit was limited to the purpose of establishing “probable cause” in the matter, it did not contain all the information known to him and other officers who were involved in the investigation.
Information available to the Jamaica Observer suggests that the ill-treatment of the men, which the ACLU claims occurred while the US Coast Guard improperly detained them “in inhumane conditions for more than a month”, occurred during the period they spent offshore while their identities and origin were being ascertained.
It is understood that they eventually spent approximately 10 months in detention in Florida.
A spokesman for the US Coast Guard, Lt Commander Scott McBride, has been reported as stating that after the Coast Guard intercepted the vessel, recovered the marijuana and detained the men, they had to await permission from the Jamaican Government to prosecute the fishermen in the US.
The ACLU said that they were barred from contacting their families for more than a month, and later learned that their families had presumed them dead when they didn't return home from their trip.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith has promised to provide details of the incident, after the completion of an investigation by her ministry.