A group of Americans arrested in Haiti driving around Port-au-Prince with an arsenal of weapons arrived back in the United States Wednesday night after failing to show up for their first court appearance before the Haitian justice system.
Upon their arrival in Miami aboard American Airlines flight 1059, U.S. law enforcement boarded the flight and handcuffed the men, according to a tweet from Haitian TV and radio personality Carel Pedre to his 223,600 followers at 8:25 p.m.
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Three hours earlier, as the flight started to take off from Port-au-Prince, a police source told the Miami Herald: “They left.”
On board: former Navy Seal officers Christopher Michael Osman and Christopher Mark McKinley, and former Marine Veteran Kent Leland Kroeker as well as Americans Dustin Porte and Talon Ray Burton. All five U.S. citizens were among eight heavily armed men whom Haiti National Police arrested on Sunday afternoon at a police checkpoint in downtown Port-au-Prince.
The group also included two Serbians, at least one of whom is a U.S. permanent resident, and a Haitian national who was deported from the U.S.
A video of the men inside the Toussaint Louverture Airport shows them being escorted through the departure area without shackles, with one U.S. embassy staffer in front and another in the back.
Airport employees say the men seemed quite at ease and were taken inside the VIP diplomatic lounge to wait on the flight after their tickets were purchased at the counter. One of the two Serbians initially was not allowed to board the flight by Haitian immigration because he had no stamps showing where he resides. After a few calls were made, he was put on the flight.
The Haitian national, Michael Estera, who goes by the pseudonym “Cliford,” was not among those sent back to the U.S. He faces illegal weapons charges. The other seven men also faced charges of driving in vehicles without license tags.
No one would discuss the case on the record. But sources familiar with the negotiations said the U.S. government intervened and expressed concerns about the group’s safety following an interview by Prime Minister Jean Henry Céant with CNN in which he characterized the men as “mercenaries” and “terrorists.”
A State Department spokesperson for Western Hemisphere Affairs said: “The return of the individuals to the US was coordinated with the Haitian authorities.”
Still, some saw the move as a slap in the face of Haiti’s justice system, which has been the recipient of millions of dollars in aid from the U.S. government over more than two decades.
“They don’t trust the Haitian justice system,” said Pierre Esperance, executive director of the National Human Rights Defense Network, a human rights group that had been monitoring the arrests and first published a list with the men’s names. “We can’t even tally the amount of money they have spent since 1995 on not just reforming the Haitian justice system, but the penal code and the police....The American government has spent a lot of money.”
The United Nations Security Council also currently operates a peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti or MINUJUSTH, focused on strengthening the justice system and professionalizing the police force. The force was lauded for the arrest of the men, who were driving around in two vehicles without license tags and an arsenal of automatic weapons and pistols.
They claimed to have been on a “government mission,” when stopped by police about a block from the country’s central bank.
“They should have at least let them make their first appearance before the Haitian courts,” Esperance said.
Miami Herald staff writer Carli Teproff and McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter Alex Daugherty contributed to this report.