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Tuesday, August 16, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesCops' Lawyers Question Witness' Credibility in Trial's First Day

Cops' Lawyers Question Witness' Credibility in Trial's First Day

Delayed hours by Monday’s inaugural events, the corruption trial of officers Enid Edwards, Francis Brooks and Bill John-Baptiste pushed into the night, giving their defense attorneys the time to build a case against the credibility of government witnesses who they said were motivated by money and greed.

The original 33-count indictment against veteran V.I. Police officers Edwards and Brooks was handed down in June and ran the gamut from extortion to kidnapping, including charges of assault, battery and illegal narcotics distribution.

Four separate incidences of drug trafficking, extortion and fraud tacked on in September added 21 counts onto the already-loaded docket, which jurors began to consider Monday as the officers’ trial opened in District Court on St. Thomas.

John-Baptiste, a V.I. Port Authority officer, is mentioned in only a few of the counts and is accused of physically assaulting and detaining a female taxi driver, who allegedly paid Edwards and Brooks an undisclosed amount of money in exchange for her release.

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The charging documents have said that the officers "abused their positions of trust" within the community and profited by extorting others — arguments that U.S. prosecuting attorney Kim Lindquist maintained Monday as he rehashed the details of the case with the jury.

Lindquist called two witnesses before trial let out for the day and set the stage for an array of characters, including a few convicted drug dealers and some wire-tapping FBI agents.

Defense attorneys took their time at the podium to lay out what they said really happened, and to say — despite multiple objections from Lindquist that were sustained by Chief District Court Judge Curtis Gomez — that the government was going on a "fishing expedition" by bringing the charges against the officers, and dragging in some unsavory witnesses after casting a "wide net" for people who would testify against the officers.

Among those who came under scrutiny Monday was Elias Deeb, an FBI informant who defense attorneys—Edwards’ attorney Jay Shreenath and Brooks’ attorney George Hodge—said was only cooperating so he could become a U.S. citizen.

Deeb, according to the defense, has claimed Edwards and Brooks extorted money from him in exchange for some documents, including a driver’s license. But the reality, Hodge said, was that Brooks was friends with Deeb, and lent him $600 in video lottery winnings to take care of his sick father.

Shreenath said Edwards wasn’t involved with Deeb, who he said has eaten up $40,000 in taxpayer money spent on him by the government in return for information.

"I mean, it wasn’t like Mr. Deeb just walked off the street one day and said, ‘I’m going to go the FBI and talk?’" Shreenath asked FBI agent Michele Neily when she took the stand late Monday night.

"Actually, he did," Neily said.

Neily was called to verify the FBI’s involvement in the case and to explain how various digital and telephone conversations between Deeb, Brooks and Edwards were made. Hodge and Shreenath once again argued against Deeb’s credibility, noted that his thick Arabic accent might make it difficult to understand the ebb and flow of the conversations at some points and said there are several instances in the tapes where the audio quality is poor, making it difficult to pick up on the whole conversation.

Gomez said it’s up to the court to decide whether the tapes are audible or not, and repeatedly asked the attorneys to move on with their questions.

While Shreenath also picked apart the list of convicted drug dealers the government plans to call as witnesses against Edwards and Brooks — saying they were taking the opportunity to cut their prison time — attorney Robert King also laid out in openings what he said was the truth behind the incident between John-Baptiste the female taxi driver he’s accused of sexually assaulting.

Describing his client as somewhat of a "zealous" officer, King said John-Baptiste had repeatedly asked the driver to stop soliciting fares on Port Authority property. On the day in question, John-Baptiste told the woman to leave but was forced to restrain her after she put up a fight, which included hitting him with a bottle, King said.

According to King, the woman “cried wolf” after the arrest, turning John-Baptiste’s forcefulness during the arrest into claims of sexual assault.

And as for claims that John-Baptiste worked alongside Edwards in Brooks to extort $500 from the woman in exchange for her freedom, Hodge said later that Brooks was having an affair with the woman’s daughter, and did call John-Baptiste to see if he could get her out of the charges — but no money exchanged hands, he added.

Also called to the stand Monday was District Police Chief Rodney Querrard Sr., who testified about his relationships with the three officers, policies of the department and — referring to the circumstances between Brooks, the taxi driver and her daughter — whether or not it was "uncommon" for officers to ask one another to release, or try to get the charges dropped against, their friends or family once they’ve already been arrested.

There’s no specific rule against it, but it’s not part of police protocol, Querrard responded.

"It just shouldn’t be done," he said.

The trial picks up in District Court at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

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