By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
AN immigration officer testified yesterday to how a “routine apprehension exercise” ended with her being bitten and kicked by a woman known to the Immigration Department.
Grade Two officer Avia Beckford is the complainant in an assault and obstruction case brought against 19-year-old Dahene Nonord, who denies committing the two crimes on December 29, 2014.
Nonord, currently on $3,500 cash bail, is defended by lawyers Fred Smith, QC, and Romauld Ferreira against claims that she unlawfully assaulted and obstructed the immigration officer while she was acting in the execution of her duties.
The officer told the Police prosecutor, Cpl Claudia McKenzie, she and her colleagues “were on a routine apprehension exercise”, headed for a shanty-town village in Golden Isles on a yellow and blue bus. She was on the latter. The officer explained a shanty town was “a non-government issued structure of homes where it is known that illegal immigrants reside there”.
“When we were leaving the village, I noticed a young lady standing at the edge of the corner with a tablet or recording device. She was ignored and we continued driving,” said Beckford, adding the officers were going southbound on Golden Isles Road headed for a shanty-town on Cowpen Road.
Beckford said she looked through the rear view windshield of the second of two buses she was on and “noticed the exact same young lady was running behind the bus”.
Though she brought it to the attention of her colleagues, the woman’s presence had been ignored. The young lady, afterwards, was nowhere in her sights.
“At that moment, I noticed a two-door red Honda vehicle overtake the yellow bus,” Beckford said. “The red two-door (Honda) Accord then cut off the bus, preventing the buses from moving forward. I then saw the exact same lady exiting the passenger side of the vehicle holding up the tablet and recording before moving to side of the yellow bus.”
“She was the driver of the vehicle?” the prosecutor asked. Beckford said no.
Beckford said her supervisor directed her to arrest the woman for obstruction but this did not occur immediately as the woman ran down a side street and into a yard before officers were able to intercept her.
“I informed officers to handcuff her but they were unable to because she was punching and kicking them,” Beckford said, adding that when she herself went to assist with the arrest, the woman “bit my right hand”.
When she was able to restrain the woman and place her into the back seat of an unmarked vehicle with the assistance of another officer, she said Nonord refused to move over when asked.
“I used my hand to move her over and that’s when she leaned over in the chair and kicked me in the face,” the court heard.
Beckford said the woman was taken and booked into the Carmichael Road police station on assault and obstruction charges.
“Did you receive any medical attention as a result of this incident?” the prosecutor asked. Beckford said she went to the walk-in clinic where she received a tetanus shot, facial cream, antibiotics and pain killers.
“Prior to the incident that day, have you ever seen the defendant?” the prosecutor asked. Beckford said she had encountered Nonord on two occasions in November, the first during an apprehension exercise concerning Nonord’s legal status and the second at Hawkins Hill headquarters.
The officer, asked by Mr Smith to define a routine apprehension exercise, said it was one “sanctioned by the Department of Immigration that the enforcement unit of the department will go into a bus and ride around all through New Providence, stopping at several sites in which we garner information from the general public on where illegal nationals residing in the Bahamas would be.”
“So you were driving around with these officers and had no specific objective?” Mr Smith probed.
“There was a specific objective. We were acting on information garnered from the general public regarding several sights,” the officer replied.
“So when you were at that specific location, did you have a particular target in mind?” the QC asked. Beckford said their target was the shanty town.
“I put it to you that your department intended to descend on a shanty-town to find illegal immigrants, yes or no?” the lawyer probed. Beckford said yes.
“Were you taught, in your training to become an immigration officer, the laws regarding a search, stop and seizure?” the lawyer asked. Beckford said yes and agreed that this could only be done if an officer has reasonable causes to suspect a criminal offence had been committed.
“Did you suspect her of breaching any offence under the Immigration Act?” Smith asked.
“The obstruction of my duty,” the officer replied.
“Was she driving the red vehicle?” the QC asked. “No, sir,” Beckford replied. “Do you know who was the driver of that vehicle?” the lawyer further probed. The officer said she later learned the driver’s indentity and, in the subsequent question, admitted that he was a police officer.
“And it is the physical obstruction of the red vehicle that obstructed the buses, correct?” Mr Smith put to the witness. Beckford agreed.
“Not Ms Nonord,” Smith further suggested to the complainant. Beckford replied “correct”.
“Is there a directive to prevent people from filming routine apprehension exercises,” the lawyer then asked. Beckford said no.
Mr Smith suggested that she was aware of an incident at the airport where an immigration officer had tried to prevent him from doing the same. The complainant said she was aware of this.
When asked to explain the contradiction, Beckford said that “within enforcement units, whenever we conduct escorts or moving persons from sloops that have been intercepted, it is determined as a sterile area”.
“So individuals attempting to record within less than five feet of this, we’d ask them to cease recording and move away from the area,” Beckford added.
“Is that in law?” the lawyer asked. Beckford replied that “it’s our policy.”
When asked if the policy was in writing, the complainant said: “I cannot find the writing, but it’s basically from the chief officer down to juniors.”
“So the police preventing recording is not in writing?” the QC asked. Beckford said no.
“Is there a written policy about raids?” the lawyer asked. Beckford said she was not certain.
“Are officers provided with a booklet or anything to guide you in your conduct and duty as an immigration officer?” the lawyer probed. Beckford said her guide was the Immigration Act.
“Anything in that book about a sterile area?” the QC asked, holding up a bound book containing the Immigration Act. Beckford said no.
“Is there anything in this book about raids?” the lawyer further probed. Beckford said no.
“You agree you can only do what the (Immigration) Act says you can do?” Mr Smith asked. Beckford agreed.
“So she (Nonord) was perfectly within her rights to record?” Smith asked. Beckford said, “Yes, sir.”
“And she was not the driver that obstructed the bus?” the lawyer further probed. Beckford said no.
“Other than the police report, did you make a report to the immigration department?” Mr Smith asked. Beckford said no. She also could not recall if her colleagues had filed a report of the incident to the department.
“What do you know about Ms Nonord?” the lawyer asked.
“The knowledge I have of her is that she holds a certificate of identity,” the officer replied.
“And she was born here?” the lawyer asked. “Yes,” Beckford replied.
“You said when she was subdued, she had to be cuffed?” the QC asked. Beckford said yes, and replied to his second question that her ankles were not cuffed, but strapped down.
“She said anything to you or the officers?” Nonord’s lawyer asked.
“She was yelling several cuss words,” the immigration officer claimed.
“She said she wanted you all to leave her alone, correct?” the lawyer suggested.
“In not such simple terms, yes,” the witness replied.
The trial resumes on April 10.