Haiti assassination investigation muddied by death threats and roadblocks, internal documents reveal
“Hey clerk, get ready for a bullet in your head, they gave you an order and you keep on doing shit,” read the July 16 text, one of several death threats sent to court clerks assisting Haiti’s investigation into the murder of former President Jovenel Moise, according to official complaints filed with Haitian police and seen by CNN.
They’re part of a cache of Internal Justice Ministry documents obtained exclusively by CNN, which reveal previously unheard testimonies from key suspects, mysterious attempts to influence the probe, and the acute danger felt by judicial investigators as they attempt to uncover who killed the president on July 7.
Death threats are not the only thing making Haitian investigators’ jobs more difficult. Multiple sources have also described to CNN a series of unusual roadblocks thrown at investigators, including difficulty in accessing crime scenes, witnesses and evidence.
The result is an investigation that has repeatedly veered from established protocol, according to both insiders and independent legal experts. The question is why?
Death threats and strange requests
Multiple Haitian officials have received death threats since their investigation began two weeks ago, documents show.
Valentin and Philostene did not respond to requests for comment about the letter.
More than a week later, documents from the Justice Ministry offer little evidence that such concerns were taken seriously, showing that clerks went on to personally lodge formal complaints on July 17 and 20 about receiving death threats — from the same phone number.
Particularly unsettling is the timing of threats, which may suggest insider knowledge of investigators’ movements.
Documents show that Valentin received an intimidating phone call on July 9, while he was on a job documenting two corpses of suspects in the assassination. According to the official complaint log, the caller demanded information about the investigation and threatened Valentin with death if he refused to add certain names to his report or to modify witness statements. The complaint doesn’t detail the names or statements.
The next week, according to the same complaint, Valentin received a text message:
“I see you keep going on searches in the president’s case, they told you to take out two names and you refuse. I am calling you and you refuse but I know your every move.”
Reached for comment on Monday, the prosecutor in charge of the case, Bedford Claude, told CNN, “Everybody receives threats” — including himself. He added that he would work on arranging more security for investigators.
Neither the Justice Minister nor the Haitian National Police responded to CNN’s requests for comment.
Barred from the crime scene
There are obvious holes in the information provided to the public, including the still-unknown contents of CCTV footage from the president’s residence on the night of the killing, and the testimonies of over 20 detained foreign suspects and two dozen local police officers.
It now appears that even Haitian investigators charged with bringing the truth to light are being left in the dark.
At crime scenes in Haiti, police typically secure the area and maintain order, while justices of the peace perform the initial investigation, document the scene and take witness testimony to create the official record of evidence. But sources close to the probe have described confusing lapses in protocol that resulted in the omission of key pieces of information from such judicial investigators’ reports.
Sources told CNN that judicial investigators were given the run-around on multiple occasions when they attempted to watch the CCTV footage, which is held by police.
“Police informed me that the scene was not yet cleared to allow (me) to come to the scene to collect evidence,” he told CNN. “I had to wait until 10:00am At that time, they then informed me that the police were on the scene and that we could now access the presidential residence.”
According to Destin, police explained that the attackers were still nearby and posed a possible danger.
But sources say the judge and his team were made to wait just outside the president’s residence — where they would have been just as exposed to chance encounters with assassins on the run.
“I’ve never heard of anybody impeding a judge and their clerks from going into a crime scene,” said Brian Concannon, an expert in the Haitian legal system.
“I guess it’s conceivably possible that if police felt a bomb was going to go off, I guess they would have the right to cordon off everything. But in terms of how that’s supposed to work … Both judge and police are trusted with doing the same thing, responding to the crime scene,” he said.
Meanwhile, sources tell CNN that FBI agents who visited the presidential residence a few days after the assassination were surprised to find an abundance of evidence left there by Haitian police, and wondered why it hadn’t already been collected.
Special agents collected the additional evidence, and sources say Haitian authorities have allowed them continual access to it.
Things only got stranger inside the presidential residence, where multiple sources close to the investigation confirm that presidential guards — potentially key witnesses in the killing — were removed or allowed to leave the premises before they could be interviewed.
“When I got to the president’s house, there was no police officer in the security booth as was always the case. Once I identified myself as the judge, then came some agents without proper identification and proper insignia. They looked like they were police officers, but I cannot tell you exactly who they were,” Destin said.
The few witnesses who were available had not seen the initial confrontation with the president’s assassins. According to a report seen by CNN, Destin was able to interview Jean Laguel Civil, chief coordinator of presidential security.
“President Jovenel Moise called me around 1am to tell me he heard a lot of gun shots outside of his residence and requested help. I immediately called Dimitri Herard, chief of (palace security) USGPN and (security official Paul Eddy) Amazan, who mobilized their troops quickly.
“They told me the road was blocked and they couldn’t make it to the president’s house. Dimitri told me all the guards couldn’t make it there. I was on my way down from my house … but a group of mercenaries who were coming from the president’s house stopped me. Luckily they didn’t do me any harm,” reads part of Civil’s statement in the report.
Civil was arrested on Monday, Bedford Claude, the prosecutor in the case, told CNN on Tuesday.
The report also shows that the president’s daughter, Jomarly Moise, gave a statement to the justice despite the terrifying experience she had just lived through and the dramatic loss of her father.
Absent however were the many security guards sworn to protect the president, who had been at the house during the attack.
“I was informed that none of those who were there on the night of the killing was present,” Destin told CNN. “I did not have a chance to talk with anybody who was on the scene during the attack.”
Twenty-four police officers are currently under administrative investigation, according to Haiti Police Chief Leon Charles, and several security chiefs have been detained. But more than two weeks after the killing, the clerks and judges responsible for processing testimony still have not heard from them.
Claude says he is satisfied with the work of the police and that they worked closely together. However, even he has not heard the testimony of any police stationed at the presidential residence during the night of the attack, he told CNN.
“The Central Direction of the Judicial Police have (heard their testimony). For myself, I have asked the DCPJ to bring them here so that I can hear it,” Claude said.
The prosecutor declined to answer whether he had seen the CCTV footage from inside the residence.
Sources close to the investigation also tell CNN that they have doubts about whether correct protocol has been followed in the processing of evidence and handling of crime scenes.
Moving bodies and allowing potential troves of evidence to be destroyed are a red flag for potential crime scene tampering, experts and insiders say.
“There are a lot of things that don’t make sense in the handling of the crime scene. Cars were burned … those are the kind of things that seem inconsistent with trying to find out the exact truth,” said Concannon.
“Investigators should question whoever was involved in changing the crime scene to establish if they had good reason to make those changes,” he added.
Wounds found on Romero’s body also raise questions about how he was killed — investigators found a bullet wound in the back of his head, according to the report.
In the same report, investigators took statements from James Solages and Joseph Vincent, two US citizens alleged to be conspirators in the assassination plot, whose versions of events have not been made public until now.
“I turned myself in to the police because I am just a translator. I only knew there’s a warrant against the president, I was there to translate. The mission was to take him and bring him to the national palace, my role was to stay in the car. I was the one with the megaphone that you saw on the videos with my colleagues you see here at the police station. I was the one telling the police to not shoot. We are 26 or 27 guys… I found the job on the internet because I speak French, English and Spanish,” reads Solages’ statement.
According to the report, Vincent told investigators that he was also a translator, and that the suspected attackers carried a document that appeared to be an arrest warrant for the president.
In another statement, Vincent described being told by former Haitian justice official Joseph Badio to leave the home of another man, Rudolphe Jaar, on the night of the attack, and to head for the president’s private residence:
“It was 1 am when Badio called us and told us the president is home watching soccer and we headed there. When we got there, it was Solages who took the megaphone to tell the presidents guard to not shoot; he screamed “This is a DEA operation,” and the people at the president’s residence started to shoot. We were 28 and the Colombians manage[d] to get inside the house. I hid somewhere and after a moment I heard Colonel Mike call someone on the phone and said the president is dead.”
Masterminds still at large
With so much about the assassination and its investigation still unknown, what may be most striking is how little Haiti’s judicial investigators have been allowed to learn about the very case they are charged with handling.
Any possibility that Haitian police are withholding information from investigators could raise concerns of a conflict of interest, at a time when dozens of police officers and security chiefs are under suspicion for ties to the case. Yet none of CNN’s sources have made any specific accusations as to who might be responsible for the multiple breaches in protocol.
Haitian legal expert and former judge Jean Senat Fleury tells CNN he fears many more legal norms have been broken in the course of the current investigation.
Haiti’s constitution forbids interrogating witnesses without an attorney or witness of their choice, and requires that an independent judge rule on the legality of any suspect’s detention for more than 48 hours.
It is possible that simple neglect or disorganization in Haiti’s underfunded justice system, which still largely relies on a paper filing system, have been the real hindrances to the investigation so far.
“To have an investigation where things seem like they should be obvious, like the contents of the surveillance footage … is that because of the systemic dysfunction or is that because someone didn’t want this thing to be publicly known? The system makes it very difficult for you to know which it is,” said Concannon.
But uncertainty around the investigation is feeding fears of dark and mysterious forces in a city where kidnapping and gang violence already threaten daily life. If the masterminds behind the murder of the most powerful man in the country cannot be brought to justice, can anyone?
“They don’t even hide,” she continued, facing Haiti’s assembled political elite. “They are here, they just watch us, listen to us, hoping to scare us.”
Reporting contributed by CNN’s Evan Perez in Washington.