PHILIPSBURG--Almost a year after Minister van Justitie Anna Richardson announced the establishment of a Police Complaints Committee, handling citizens’ complaints about police brutality, the Minister told Parliament on Friday that the Committee became operational on December 1, 2022. The procedure has not yet been communicated widely to the public.
The establishment of the Police Complaint Committee, according to Justice Minister Richardson, allows for a healthy process whereby “the Ministry through the complaints committee is ensuring accountability where and when identified necessary.”
The Minister explained to Parliament that the appointment of committee members and a secretary took longer than expected “as it was imperative that we could guarantee suitable candidate members who could fulfill the roles with the high requirements of integrity, knowledge and quality of work.”
The committee consists of three members with the relevant level of expertise and knowledge in the law enforcement, legal and social field, Richardson said. “The committee is an external and independent body that handles complaints about the conduct of law enforcement officers. It is not limited to the conduct of police officers.”
Richardson started to explain the complaint procedure in response to questions from Party for Progress (PfP) Member of Parliament Raeyhon Peterson, a staunch advocate of independent complaint handling. In 2018 Peterson filed a complaint against St. Maarten Police Force KPSM, however, never heard back. He then fought his case in Court.
At the time, on the last night of the Heineken Regatta, a car ran into Peterson’s car at high speed after the driver deviated from the required direction of travel, causing a near-frontal collision. Peterson’s car was a total loss.
That night both Peterson and his father, who had come to the scene after his son called him, ended up in a police holding cell at the Philipsburg police station. They had been accused of a “scuffle” with the police.
“It was alleged that I, in some way, had gotten into a physical altercation with the police officer,” Peterson said. “Nothing of the sort happened. It was the officer who initiated the altercation and escalated the situation.”
Police pointed guns at father and son and took them to the police headquarters. “We were told that we were held for questioning, but it turned out that we were arrested,” said Peterson, who had to strip naked and was not allowed by police to contact an attorney.
Only nine days prior to the Police Complaints Committee becoming operational on December 1, 2022, Chief of Police Carl John and Chief Inspector Benjamin Gout admitted that individuals had been detained and forced to disrobe completely at the police station for no valid reason and without permission from the District Attorney or Judge-Commissioner.
The victims were a woman and a man. Two separate arrests in unrelated cases, the woman’s case being a domestic dispute and the man’s an alleged refusal to obey a police officer’s stop signal.
“I was escorted to the bathroom located opposite to the Detective Department’s office,” said the woman, a single mother who is director of her own business and had never been arrested before. “I was asked to strip completely naked in the presence of the female officer who was standing in the open bathroom doorway. To make this humiliating experience even worse, I was also on my monthly period.”