A prosecutor’s legacy: the indictment against the lack of a youth policy

POSTED: 03/13/11 8:33 PM

Press officer Rienk Mud returns to the Netherlands after three years

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – When he landed on March 16th in St. Maarten, public prosecutor Mr. Rienk Mud had never been to the island before. Yet, he had felt a strong pull towards a tour of duty in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom ever since he got involved in a drugs investigation that took him to Curacao more than ten years ago, in September 2000. Now Mud’s 3-year contract in St. Maarten is coming to an end. On March 22nd he will fly back to the Netherlands where he will become a policy officer in Alkmaar. Chief Prosecutor Mr. Hans Mos has taken over Mud’s task as press officer.
The drugs investigation back in 2000 was Mud’s first taste of the Netherlands Antilles. He spent two weeks in Curacao; the investigation led to the arrest of the main suspect. “I met with Dutch prosecutors who were working in Curacao,” Mud remembers. “That’s when it occurred to me that it would be fun to work in a different environment.”
A year later he returned to Curacao for a criminal investigation that focused on seizing assets from the drug lord that was arrested in 2000. “That did not work out, but when I came back home I said for the first time to my wife Nel that I’d like to work in the Caribbean.”
Because Mrs. Mud had her doubts at that time, nothing came of it, but the pull towards the Caribbean got a fresh impulse when the father of a friend of the family’s daughter moved to Curacao. “We went there for two weeks and that is when I got a first good impression, though it was of course the impression of a tourist. The idea was to go and work in Curacao.”
It still did not happen, but somehow the Caribbean kept creeping into Mud’s daily work as a youth prosecutor in Alkmaar. “As a coordinating youth officer I was involved with the safety house in Den Helder, and there I got in touch with many Antilleans.”
In 2007, Mud traveled again to Curacao, this time for a consultation about a safety house there. Later that year, Chief Prosecutor Bernard Streefland brought a vacancy at the prosecutor’s office in St. Maarten to his attention.
“I know Taco stein, because at a certain time we were both on the board of the council for child protection and we were both press officers.” Just before Christmas 2007, Mud was accepted for the job.
What was his first impression of St. Maarten? “The enormous overdose of cars. Taco picked us up from the airport and when we got to Simpson Bay I thought, where have I landed. I did not have any picture in my mind of traffic jams on the island. I also remember the cluttered Caribbean set up, I thought of St. Maarten as more Caribbean than Curacao. That image has stuck. There are too many cars here, though I have seen improvements in the infrastructure like the roundabout in Cole Bay.”
Another detail that struck Mud is the enormous number of people that work in security companies. “When I saw someone in a uniform of Sheriff I thought, are we in America? But that turned out to be the name of a security firm.”
The criminal case Mud will remember for the rest of his life is the trial of Devon Otto, the man who killed census office employee Stanley Gumbs in 2008, on March 31st in a case of mistaken identity. “He was shot in front of the Fefe Bar, and I had just arrived on the island. I went to the autopsy. The island was in shock because a 21-year-old boy was shot. They called him the professor; he worked at the census office and he was quiet and law-abiding. After a lot of effort we were able to hold Devon Otto responsible for his death. We considered demanding a life sentence, because that guy is extremely dangerous.”
Mud said that the trial made a deep impression on him, as well as on his wife Nel who attended the court hearing. “Otto was brought in by members of the arrest team who were clad in bivouacs, and Otto was shackled at the ankles. We demanded 30 years and the court sentenced him to 24. I went on appeal because I considered that penalty too low. The appeals court sentenced him to 30 years again.”
The prosecution sealed the case against Otto by matching the bullets from the crime scene with a gun that was later found in his possession. “This illustrates the importance of good forensic investigations. For that we need a good technical detective department, and by good I mean: enough people, enough equipment and sufficient training.”
Mud sees the development of the forensics department at the police force as an important and positive development. “You feel the enthusiasm of the people who work there. The arrival of Jos van Deventer is significant. They are not where they ought to be by a long shot, but that is not a reproach towards the people who work there. Thanks to them we are now able to solve burglaries based on finger print evidence.”
The aversion towards snitching is something that seriously hinders criminal investigations. “On the one hand I understand why people are reluctant to talk, because they are running a risk. But it is disquieting that people do not seem to trust each other, and that they constantly think that a statement they make could be used against them later on.”
All this, Mud says, has to do with the island’s enormous growth that took class of people in the lace in a relatively short period of time. “There has been an influx of people from other islands and they do not have the feeling that this is their island. I see people but I do not see a people.”
Problems are compounded by the unbalanced structure of the local society, Mud adds. “There is an extreme rich top layer, and almost no middle class. What we have there are mostly Indian merchants. There is a large group of people in the lower social class. They hardly have any education and they are not highly intelligent either. They are not capable to express themselves properly due to insufficient language skills. That creates enormous problems.”
Mud has experienced his contacts with the local media as “extremely pleasant,” especially with the writers. “I have always made an effort to tell as much as possible without damaging the interest of investigations.”
But Mud was less pleased with a recent experience whereby a photographer violated a crime scene. He also places question marks with this newspaper’s decision to put the picture that resulted from this action on the front page, tough at the same time he respects the reason we arrived at that decision. The case at hand is, of course, the execution style murder of Eduardo Nova-Valdez last week.
“How that picture came about has caused quite some wrinkled eyebrows. I had my doubts at that moment whether the photographer was aware of how he should deal with a crime scene.”
Mud said that driving onto a crime scene leads to the destruction of trace evidence and that this complicates an investigation. “The police was not happy with that. I find that the press also has to take its responsibility. Before you know it you are a suspect instead of a photographer.”
Mud had to get used to the Caribbean practice of shooting pictures of suspects as they come and go from the courthouse. “I think that is not necessary, even if faces are covered. When I see Gromyko (Wilson – ed.) with his camera at the ready near the courthouse I always think, oh man, why don’t you stop this?”
Mud says that media exposure has a potential negative effect on court procedures. “If the media depict someone as guilty, a defense attorney is able to say to the judge that his client has been punished enough already. The presumption of innocence is a great thing.”
In 2009, Mud was invited to speak at a conference about youth policy in Curacao. After initial doubts, he decided to spend one day on it. “You expect a presentation?” he said to the audience. “I am a prosecutor and I have an indictment for you about the shortcomings in the youth policy. I have a demand and if that demand is not met it is useless to talk about a youth policy.”
The demands Mud put forth at the conference were, among others, a separate penitentiary facility for young inmates, a new penal code for juveniles, and a decently equipped organization. “I called out to the representative of the Council of Guardianship and asked: how many people do you have? Right, one-and a half. The rehabilitation bureau? Same thing.”
Mud told the conference that without decently equipped organizations a youth policy will remain an illusion but there was an important spin off from the Curacao conference: the establishment of the JCO – a forum where representatives of the police, the council of guardianship, the rehabilitation bureau, social workers at the Pointe Blanche prison and the public prosecutor’s office meet every other week to discuss all new cases in preventive custody in the 12-17 and 18-24 age categories.
“The information from these meetings is filed, and every youngster gets a card. The information is stored in one place and easy accessible for all partners in the justice chain. That enables us to take better decisions about prosecution and about assistance.

Did you like this? Share it:
A prosecutor’s legacy: the indictment against the lack of a youth policy by

Comments are closed.