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United States v. Suchit

March 15, 2007

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
DAVID SUCHIT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Defendant David A. Suchit, a citizen of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago ("Trinidad"), was extradited from Trinidad to the United States in June 2006 to face charges of conspiracy to commit hostage taking resulting in death in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1203, and aiding and abetting the alleged hostage taking. Presently before the Court is defendant's motion to return defendant to his country of origin and defendant's motion to suppress his statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") and to police authorities in Trinidad. An evidentiary hearing was held on February 12 and 13, 2007.*fn1 For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny defendant's motions.*fn2

FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND FINDINGS

Defendant is one of twelve defendants from Trinidad facing federal criminal charges arising from the April 2005 kidnapping and subsequent death of Balram Maharaj, a U.S. citizen visiting family in Trinidad. Defendant played a key role as a cooperating witness during the investigation by Trinidad authorities and the FBI from September 2005 to March 2006, which resulted in several oral and written statements to Trinidad authorities and the FBI. These statements eventually led the United States to conclude in March 2006 that defendant should be treated as a target rather than a witness. See Tr. at 70. Thus, on April 26, 2006, the grand jury returned an indictment naming Suchit as a defendant, and he was arrested the next day in Trinidad pursuant to a provisional arrest warrant from the United States. He consented to extradition on June 26, 2006, and was flown to the United States two days later.

The resolution of the pending motions requires the Court to determine whether, on five separate occasions -- September 28, 2005, October 3 to 4, 2005, and January 8, February 17, and March 1, 2006 -- Suchit was "in custody" at the time of the statements and whether he made the statements voluntarily. Defendant also asks the Court to evaluate the voluntariness of Suchit's consent to extradition. The Court thus makes the following factual findings with respect to the circumstances surrounding Suchit's statements and extradition.

These factual findings are based on the testimony of two witnesses and the exhibits authenticated by them. The Court observes that the primary evidence submitted during the motions hearing was the testimony of FBI Special Agent William T. Clauss, the lead FBI investigator who interviewed Suchit on multiple occasions and acted as the FBI's primary liaison with the Trinidad police. He offered testimony on the scope and nature of the U.S. and Trinidad kidnapping investigations and his personal observations of the circumstances surrounding his interviews with Suchit. Clauss also interviewed Trinidad police officers and the victim's brother, Neermal John, about Suchit, and offered hearsay evidence of their statements.*fn3 The Court finds Clauss to be a credible and forthright witness. His testimony was consistent, he candidly acknowledged when he lacked responsive information, and he showed no hesitation in providing information that might create uncertainty over the probative value of his responses. The second witness was Brad Davidson, defense counsel's investigator. His testimony focused almost exclusively on the circumstances surrounding one police visit to Suchit's home in early October 2005. Thus, the Court relies on Clauss's largely unrebutted testimony in making its factual findings, giving due consideration to defendant's evidence regarding the police visit to his home in early October 2005. The Court also relies on those statements made by defendant that are not in controversy,*fn4 and makes limited use of the statements that are in controversy to establish a context for the alleged events.*fn5 With this preface, the saga begins.

Balram Maharaj was visiting his family in Trinidad when he was kidnapped from the Samaan Tree Bar on or about April 6, 2005. Tr. at 15, 28-29. The U.S. Embassy in Trinidad was notified of the abduction by a family member the next day. Id. at 16-17, 95-96. Within days, the FBI commenced an investigation through its Miami office, with Special Agent Clauss acting as its lead investigator.*fn6 Id. at 18. Clauss arrived in Trinidad on April 10, 2005 with three U.S. hostage negotiators. Id. at 96, 99. At that point, four days had passed, and the Trinidad police investigation was well underway. Id. at 96-97. The kidnappers had made a ransom demand of $3 million Trinidad dollars -- approximately $500,000 U.S. dollars. Id. at 26-27. The Trinidad antikidnapping unit had stationed officers at the residence of the victim's mother 24 hours a day -- two officers, on 12-hour shifts -- and had set up equipment to record incoming ransom calls.

Id. at 97-100. When the FBI arrived, Clauss explained that they were there to assist in the investigation because the victim was a U.S. citizen and United States law thus covered the crime. Id. at 97. Clauss exercised the primary investigative authority on behalf of the United States, which included interviewing family members and potential witnesses at the crime site, whereas the hostage negotiators provided advice to the victim's family on the ransom negotiations. Id. at 100-01. The last ransom call was received on April 13, 2005, at which time the family requested that the kidnappers provide proof of life. Id. at 103-04. No further contacts from the kidnappers were received after that date. Id. They abandoned their ransom efforts when the victim died that day, although the family, Trinidad police, and the FBI, at that time, had no knowledge of his death or whereabouts. Id. at 19, 29. The case went cold after the April 13 call, and the FBI thus left Trinidad about ten days later. Id. at 103-04. A few days later, around April 27, 2005, the Trinidad police shut down the recording equipment and ended its 24-hour station at the family's residence. Id. at 102-03.

The Maharaj kidnapping had been widely publicized in Trinidad, and a reward for information about the crime had been announced by both U.S. and Trinidad authorities and publicized by an organization known as Crimestoppers. Tr. at 22-23; see also Gov't Ex. 18 (U.S. press release announcing reward). Suchit's first contact with investigators occurred at his initiation on or about April 15, 2005, two days after Maharaj's death, when he made an anonymous call to Crimestoppers to provide authorities with information about the kidnapping. Id. at 19-20, 31. On May 5, 2005, he placed four more calls to Crimestoppers to report that Anderson Straker was involved in the kidnapping. Id. at 19, 24-25; Gov't Ex. 17. For reasons that are unknown, the information was not relayed to the Trinidad antikidnapping unit or FBI until over five months later. Tr. at 124-25.

The record indicates that there were no significant developments in the FBI or Trinidad investigations until the following September of 2005. The victim's brother, Neermal John (referred to in the record primarily as "Neermal" and "Nimal"), had, by coincidence, moved from his mother's residence to the town of Arima a few months after the kidnapping, living only about 400 yards away from Suchit. Id. at 27, 129. They had met each other a handful of times and smoked marijuana together. Id. at 27. Neermal became aware that Suchit had a criminal record, and this eventually led Neermal to request Suchit's assistance in retaliating against someone he suspected was involved in Maharaj's kidnapping. Id. at 29-30. When Neermal told Suchit the story of his brother's kidnapping, Suchit responded that he had personal knowledge about the kidnappers and had already contacted Crimestoppers. Id. at 30-31. Neermal responded that the United States had offered a $10,000 reward for information on the kidnapping, and asked Suchit to meet with Constable Phillip Forbes, the lead investigator from the Trinidad police antikidnapping unit. Id. at 31, 36. Suchit agreed to do so. Id. at 31.

The initial meeting, arranged by Neermal, took place on or about September 28, 2005 at Neermal's residence, with Neermal, Suchit, Forbes and another Trinidad police officer participating. Id. at 31-34, 79-80. A second meeting between Suchit and Forbes took place a few days later at Suchit's residence.*fn7 Id. at 33-34, 80. Forbes did not threaten or otherwise intimidate Suchit at these meetings. Id. at 34-35.

In the first few days of October 2005, arrangements were being made to have the FBI interview Suchit at the U.S. Embassy on or about October 4. Id. at 34-35. Constable Forbes had at that time informed Special Agent Clauss that an informant (Suchit) had come forward with information about the kidnapping -- the first significant lead for the FBI since they had left Trinidad in April. Id. at 35-36, 108, 115-17. Clauss traveled from Miami to Trinidad on short notice in order to conduct the interview, with the understanding that the interview would take place whenever he arrived on October 4. Id. at 117-19. Suchit discussed the anticipated FBI interview with Neermal beforehand, expressing some degree of excitement about the opportunity to provide information to the FBI. Id. at 35.

Two police officers transported Suchit from his residence to his interview with the FBI. At that time, Suchit lived with his wife, Leera Suchit; his mother, Soogan Suchit; and one of his brothers, Tony Suchit. Def.'s Ex. 1 (Statement of Soogan Suchit); Def.'s Ex. 3 (Statement of Leera Suchit); Def.'s Ex. 5 (Statement of Tony Suchit); see also Def.'s Ex. 2 (Statement of Wayne Suchit) (second brother living in the area); Def.'s Ex. 4 (Statement of Antonio Pollard) (houseguest at the Suchit residence on date of police arrival). When the officers arrived, they came in an unmarked car and were not in uniform, but did have their guns with them. Soogan Suchit Stmt. at 1; Leera Suchit Stmt. at 1-2; Tony Suchit Stmt. at 1. They told Soogan Suchit and defendant himself that they needed to question him about a kidnapping. Soogan Suchit Stmt. at 1-2; Leera Suchit Stmt. at 2; Tony Suchit Stmt. at 1. They further told defendant he should put on some clothes because they were going to the Arouca police station in Trinidad. Tony Suchit Stmt. at 2. Defendant did so and returned to the officers, who then handcuffed him and led him to the back seat of the car. Soogan Suchit Stmt. at 2; Leera Suchit Stmt. at 2; Tony Suchit Stmt. at 2. The officers drove him to the Arouca station, where he apparently stayed overnight.*fn8 See Leera Suchit Stmt. at 4-5.

Defendant's wife and one of his brothers searched for defendant that evening with limited success. Leera Suchit Stmt. at 3-4; Wayne Suchit Stmt. at 2-3. The night of October 3, they telephoned and visited three police stations, including the Arouca police station, and initially received no information as to defendant's whereabouts. Leera Suchit Stmt. at 3; Wayne Suchit Stmt. at 2. Leera Suchit then returned to the Arouca station to make further inquiries and was told by an officer that Suchit was there for questioning about a kidnapping and would be released the next day. Leera Suchit Stmt. at 3-4.

Clauss arrived the next afternoon, October 4, 2005, and promptly called Forbes so that the interview could be done that day. Constables Forbes and Brebnor drove Suchit to the U.S. Embassy, arriving at about 5:00 p.m. Tr. at 37, 143. Clauss conducted the interview in the presence of Forbes and the FBI assistant legal attache at the Embassy.*fn9 Id. at 119; Gov't Ex. 2, at 1.

The interview lasted four to five hours, until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. Tr. at 39; Gov't Ex. 2. Among other things, Suchit described himself as having a minor role in the kidnapping -- that is, driving Anderson Straker to make telephone calls while the victim was being held hostage and acting as Straker's messenger to a co-conspirator named Doreen when the victim died. Tr. at 19; Gov't Ex. 2. Suchit's demeanor was calm and relaxed, and he appeared eager to provide information to the FBI. Tr. at 19. Clauss did not place Suchit under arrest, or otherwise place restrictions on Suchit's ability to leave. Id. at 39. Clauss saw no indicia that Forbes had placed any restrictions on Suchit's liberty. Id. at 38. As to Suchit's relationship with Forbes, Clauss did not observe any indicia of fear, trepidation, anxiety or reserve. Id. The only fear that Suchit expressed was that his cooperation with the local police and FBI put him at risk of harm from the other alleged kidnappers; he thus requested that his identity be kept confidential. Id. at 38-39. After the interview was done, the Trinidad police drove Suchit back to his residence in Arima. See Leera Suchit Stmt. at 5. When Suchit returned home, he made no mention to his family of mistreatment by the police. Id. at 201-02. Clauss's summary of the interview is set forth in an FBI Form 302. See Tr. at 41-42; Gov't Ex. 2. Consistent with Suchit's request for confidentiality, he placed the header "PROTECT IDENTITY" at the top of each page. Gov't Ex. 2.

After the October 4th interview, the pace of the FBI investigation slowed again. Tr. at 40. In November 2005, Detective Corporal Wendell Lucas from the Trinidad homicide bureau advised Clauss that the case would be transferred from the antikidnapping unit to his bureau because the duration of time that had passed with no information suggested that the victim was dead -- a conclusion consistent with the information provided by Suchit. Id. at 41. Around that time, Clauss also learned that Lucas had been getting independent information from another informant. Id. at 108-09. That information soon began to "triangulate" with information that Suchit had provided. Id. at 40.

In January 2006, major strides in the investigation took place. Clauss flew back to Trinidad on January 3, 2006 to conduct follow-up investigation, touch base with the Trinidad investigators, and conduct further liaison to find out what else could take place to further the investigation. Id. at 44-45. Upon his arrival, he learned that the Trinidad police planned to arrest two suspects the next day, co-defendants Zion Clarke and Kevon Demerieux. Id. at 45. Those arrests took place as planned on January 4. Id.

The police also planned to arrest the woman name Doreen whom Suchit had described earlier -- Doreen Alexander -- and they relied on Suchit to make the necessary identification in support of the arrest. Id. at 45-47. To this end, Suchit arrived at the police station, uncuffed, on January 5, 2006 in an unmarked car with two police officers.*fn10 Id. at 46. To ensure that Suchit would not be implicated as an informant, however, the officers devised a "ruse" to make it appear that Suchit was at the police station as an arrestee. Id. They thus placed Suchit in handcuffs before entering the station, and then walked Suchit into the homicide office, past a cubicle where Doreen was seated. Id. at 46-47. As he walked by, he made comments to the effect of "that's Doreen, that's the woman," which, from the context, indicates he identified Doreen as the woman he referred to in his earlier statements to the Trinidad police and FBI. Id. at 47. The police then placed Suchit against the wall so that a photograph could be taken of him, as if it were an arrest photo, and next led him outside of the homicide office, where the handcuffs were removed. Id. He exited the building, but stayed in the parking lot for another 20 to 30 minutes smoking a cigarette and conversing with the officers while he waited for a police officer to become available to give him a ride home. Id. at 47-48.

While in the parking lot, the police told Suchit they were having difficulty locating Straker, who had several residences. Id. at 48. Suchit then offered to call Straker and create a story that would cause Straker to disclose his whereabouts. Id. That evening, January 5, Suchit placed the call to Straker, and told him that he needed to use Straker's van to move tires. Id. at 48-49. Straker responded that he could not help because he was at his home in the town of Mayaro, which was too far away from Suchit's area. ...


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