Justice minister issues retraction statement following press briefing

Justice minister issues retraction  statement following press briefing

The late Lance Thomas. (Photo compilation from the late Lance Thomas’ Facebook account)


PHILIPSBURG--“Ah, another one was Mr. Thomas, you are incorrect there as well,” Minister of Justice Anna Richardson said to a reporter of The Daily Herald during Wednesday’s Council of Ministers’ press briefing. Whereas the Prosecutor’s Office had not updated the public on the investigation into the passing of Lance Thomas, who died on July 22, 2021, Minister Richardson on Wednesday indicated that the case was closed.

According to Minister Richardson, she gave “quite an advice on that, that the Public Prosecutor came to a conclusion and the family was notified by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.” If the reporter wished to get any information specific to that, the minister suggested that she either contact the Prosecutor’s Office, or “if you are so willing to go to the family, that would be up to you.”

When the reporter reached out to the family, a close relative of Thomas reacted in total disbelief to the minister's statements. Nearly two years after 48-year-old Thomas was found dead in a police cell behind the police station in Philipsburg, it is still not clear why he was held there – he was not suspected of a criminal offence – what happened in the four days in the police cell, and who is responsible for his death.

The cardinal question is what has been the role of psychiatrist Dr. Erik Hoencamp of the Mental Health Foundation, what has he done or failed to do when he visited Thomas in the police cell. The Daily Herald called the psychiatrist the day after Thomas's death. Dr. Hoencamp responded: “I don't know the patient. I don't know why you are calling me. I don't know you and I have no comment. You can talk to me for another half hour, but I'm not going to answer you.”

Dr. Hoencamp, whose six-month contract at MHF had ended on July 15, 2021, had received a six-month extension by courtesy of Minister of Public Health, Social Affairs and Labor VSA Omar Ottley. Nearing the end of this agreement, The Daily Herald was informed that Dr. Hoencamp and his wife, who was also employed at MHF, were, in the context of the judicial investigation, expected to remain on St. Maarten and not to return to the Netherlands for the time being.

The newspaper has no information as to whether the couple is still on the island, or whether Dr. Hoencamp has been officially identified as a suspect.

Minister Richardson said on Wednesday that the last update that she received from the Prosecutor’s Office OM was that the case had been closed, and that the family would be notified.

Later during the day, the reporter called the Cabinet of the Ministry of Justice to give Minister Richardson the chance to retract her statements made during the press briefing. The reporter indicated that she had contacted the family, who said that they had not received any updates from the OM.

In her statement of retraction issued to the media just before midnight on Wednesday, Minister Richardson said that the development prompted her to engage in communication with the OM. The minister received a new update on Wednesday afternoon.

“This update entailed the information that the prosecution services are continuing with the investigation,” Richardson stated. “The OM is diligently overseeing the case independently from the government and has assured Minister Richardson that the family will be contacted, and updates will be provided.”

The family’s lawyer is still awaiting an update from the Prosecutor’s Office, as was promised last month by Prosecutor General Hieke Buist. On July 22, it will be two years since Thomas was found deceased in the police holding cell.

The Daily Herald

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