Judge Curtis Gomez dismissed 11 of 54 counts against three VI law enforcement officers Friday in St. Thomas District Court, citing lack of evidence.
The ruling was a setback for prosecutors, who wrapped up the federal case against V.I. Police Department officers Enid Edwards and Francis Brooks and Port Authority officer Bill John-Baptiste by calling five final witnesses to the stand.
All five of the prosecution’s new witnesses Friday testified about large cash deposits made by Edwards during the period from March 2001 through July 2009. An IRS agent, two managers from Scotia Bank and two tellers from First Bank gave testimony that Edwards deposited cash sums of more than $9,000 on at least 10 occasions.
Prosecutors presented various deposit tickets and Currency Transaction Forms (CTFs) as evidence that the deposits were made by Edwards on the dates in question. These documents bore Edward’s bank account number and driver’s license number as proof of her identity. More than one witness explained that banks are required by law to fill out CTFs when cash transactions are above a certain threshold, usually $10,001.
Friday’s sixth prosecution witness was Jason Oakley, an FBI agent based on St. Croix. Oakley initially took the stand Thursday, but gave less than one minute of testimony about his arrest of John-Baptiste before being dismissed amid numerous objections from defense counsel.
Oakley was re-called to the stand on Friday, but again was only able to say a few words in response to questioning, then was excused after repeated objections and a long sidebar between the judge and attorneys.
After the prosecution rested its case, Gomez heard extensive arguments from defense attorneys relating to the possible dismissal of several counts. All 11 dismissed counts involved both Brooks and Edwards; count 24 also involved John-Baptiste. Among them were charges of kidnapping, extortion, racketeering and drug trafficking.
After lunch, the defense began mounting its case by calling five witnesses who had been at the Red Hook Ferry terminal on the afternoon of April 2, 2008, and saw the altercation between Yvese Calixte and officer John-Baptiste. The witnesses included a taxi driver, a terminal security officer, an employee of a ferry company, and a ferry boat captain.
Two of the five witnesses said that Calixte initially threw a can at John-Baptiste through the window of her vehicle, which hit him in the chest. All five testified that they saw Calixte kick and hit John-Baptiste as he tried to remove her from her vehicle, and that she furiously resisted arrest.
This testimony painted Calixte as the aggressor in the incident, and contradicted prosecution witnesses who said earlier in the week that John-Baptiste appeared to violently pull Calixte from her vehicle and roughly pin her to the ground without provocation.
On cross-examination prosecutor Kim Lindquist tried to refocus the defense witnesses onto John-Baptiste’s behavior during the incident. His questioning suggested that John-Baptiste was perhaps "asserting his authority" too forcefully over Calixte. However, none of the witnesses said they saw John-Baptiste act aggressively toward Calixte that day, nor did they know him as an overly zealous enforcer when he is on duty.
Two subsequent witnesses, Michael Motylinski and Tony Reece, attempted to testify as to Brooks’s credibility and reputation. Both Motylinski, a lawyer with the Department of Justice, and Reece, an assistant attorney general, had worked with Brooks in the past during various legal cases. However neither was allowed to answer any specific questions due to repeated objections by the prosecution.
Near the end of the day the defense called witness Cliff Tonge in an effort to refute the racketeering extortion charge against Edwards. Tonge, the owner of a tow truck company, described how he was called by Edwards to remove a Ford truck that had run off the road and gotten stuck in an embankment in July 2007.
After removing the car and impounding it, he was paid $825 by the vehicle’s owner to release it. Tonge admitted the fee was higher than the normal tow and impound fee, but denied it was somehow inflated so that it could be split with Edwards.
Tonge said that a higher fee was necessary only because of the extra labor required to get the truck unstuck from the embankment. He said the job took almost two hours and required two workers, a backhoe, plus dozens of belts and chains. Tonge testified that the $825 was split only between himself and the backhoe driver.
The trial continues Monday at 1:30 pm.