By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE assistant director of immigration yesterday admitted to releasing a Jamaican woman into the custody of the senior immigration officer who allegedly raped her, as he said he had no reason to suspect anything untoward would happen.
Dwight Livingston Beneby said he "trusted" Norman Bastian would not deviate from immigration protocol when he authorized Claudia Edwards Bethel's release from the detention centre into his subordinate's exclusive custody for further investigation.
Mr Beneby said he saw nothing wrong with such a transaction, as given Mr Bastian's rank and seniority, he would have been fully cognizant of the Department of Immigration's (DOI) policy when it comes to officers handling female detainees.
"It's part of our training," he said. "Every immigration officer knows that no male (officer) goes by himself with a female to protect him, so we don't have these kinds of accusations where the female said the officer may have molested her," he said.
"If he is going to take a female, he has to have a female with him. By his training he knows that."
However, Mr Beneby said he had no idea Mr Bastian was going to take Mrs Bethel from the Carmichael Road facility subsequent to her release. He said as far as he knew, Mr Bastian only wanted to investigate the discrepancies over Mrs Bethel's address.
"I know he was going to continue his investigation," Mr Beneby said. "What form that took, I'm not absolutely certain. He was the investigating officer."
Mr Beneby's evidence is the latest in Mrs Bethel's lawsuit against the government over the alleged rape and goes to the heart of what transpired procedurally that caused her to end up in Mr Bastian's exclusive custody in the first place.
According to the evidence lead previously, Mrs Bethel was admitted to the CRDC after being arrested by police following a late night/early morning raid at the Twilight Bar on December 13, 2014.
Mr Beneby said he first became aware Mrs Bethel, and nine other foreign nationals were in immigration custody that Sunday morning while he was in church.
Taking the witness stand before Justice Indra Charles, Mr Beneby explained that at some point, Mr Bastian spoke with him about wanting to confirm Mrs Bethel lived at a particular address, because the information they had was she lived elsewhere.
Mr Beneby said based on his understanding of the issue and Mr Bastian's request, he gave his subordinate verbal permission to continue the investigation. He said he had no qualms with doing so because he knew Mr Bastian knew the procedure and would do things properly.
Mr Bastian, in response to a question by Mrs Bethel's attorney Fred Smith, QC, said to the best of his knowledge, Mr Bastian had always done things the right way, and up to the time of the alleged incident, had no disciplinary complaints filed against him.
Mr Beneby said on December 15, 2014, and pursuant to the conversation he had with Mr Bastian, he and another senior immigration officer, Superintendent Ephraim Rolle, authorized a surrender release form for Mrs Bethel. The form specifically provided for Mrs Bethel's surrender to Mr Bastian's custody on Mr Beneby's instructions.
However, Mr Beneby explained that the information contained on the release form was added in by someone, likely the supervisor of the facility, after he would have authorized Mrs Bethel's release and sent the form down from headquarters.
Nonetheless, Mr Beneby said releasing a former detainee to an immigration officer for further investigation was not abnormal, as the Department of Immigration has done it before. However, he said that ideally, whoever the investigating officer is should at least inform the detainee of what would happen prior to them commencing the investigation.
And concerning the present case, Mr Beneby said based on his understanding of what Mr Bastian told him he wanted to investigate, he figured that once that was Mr Bastian's investigations were done, he would release Mrs Bethel and her liberty would be fully restored.
However, Mr Beneby said he would have done things differently in hindsight. He said rather than authorize a release form, he would have instead authorized a temporary custodial form for Mrs Bethel to be released to Mr Bastian, then authorize the surrender release form once Mr Bastian returned with her to the CRDC.
Nonetheless, Mr Smith asserted that the surrender release form proved that Mrs Bethel was not set free from the custody of the DOI, but at best only released from the CRDC.
In response, Mr Beneby said Mr Smith's assertion was correct in the circumstances, but noted that had Mrs Bethel objected to going with Mr Bastian upon her release from the Carmichael Road facility, both Mr Bastian and the Department of Immigration would have had no other choice but to honor it.
However, Mr Smith countered by arguing that such a possibility would be dependent on whether Mrs Bethel was told she could decline being 'further investigated', and went to the heart of whether she was actually released or just set free from the detention center.
During cross examination, Mr Beneby also said Mrs Bethel was detained at the CRDC because as reported to him, she did not have a document on her person to show she had any status in the country, and that would thus warrant her release.
In response, Mr Smith asserted his client had a copy of her spousal permit at the time. However, Mr Beneby said that copy would not have sufficed, as the DOI has dealt with many copies that weren't "worth the paper they were copied on". Mr Beneby further agreed with Mr Smith's suggestions that the mere fact that Mrs Bethel had a copy gave him reason to suspect it may have been fake. That suspicion, Mr Beneby said, was largely grounded in the fact that the DOI doesn't issue copies as official documents.
Mr Beneby also disagreed with Mr Smith's assertion that people have no legal obligation to carry proof of their status in the country, or any documents for that matter, with them as they go about their daily activities. Conversely, he said it would be "foolhardy" for persons to walk around without any documents on them. In response to questions by Mr Smith, Mr Beneby further asserted that an immigration officer can arrest a person so long as he/she has a reasonable suspicion that the individual is not a permanent resident or a Bahamian.
Mrs Bethel, who previously waived her right to anonymity in an earlier interview with The Tribune, is suing the government in a civil matter after her rape case was tossed out of court years ago. Mr Bastian was never convicted of the offence.
Mrs Bethel claims Mr Bastian raped her and forced her to commit oral sex after lying in wait for her in his bed naked.
Mr Bastian denies the rape and maintains the sex was consensual, claiming it was initiated by Mrs Bethel after she bluntly asked for sex after pulling down her pants and showing him the tattoos on her buttocks.
The matter continues in July.