By Onz Chery
A group of Port-au-Prince residents took to the streets Friday, with many among them firing gunshots into the air. But it wasn’t to protest this time. Accompanied by the vibrant melodies of rara music, the jubilant crowd was celebrating the release of police officer Jean-Pascal Alexandre.
A tall, slender man with a bright smile glued on his face, Alexandre stood out in the crowd. His supporters took turns hugging him as they walked, and one woman held back tears as she pressed into him. The release from jail meant that much to them.
“I’m really happy for you, Pascal, because you were in jail as an innocent man,” Daniela Alfred commented on YouTube. “I hope you stay careful, my brother.”
Alexandre was arrested on May 8 after being accused of arson and destruction of public property. At the time, he was a member of the Haitian National Police (PNH). It is unclear if he was fired from the beleaguered agency or remained an employee while in custody.
Still, Alexandre’s arrest triggered a series of violent protests over the past month by a group calling itself Fantom 509. Made up of masked police officers, the group threatened to burn down government buildings and kill residents in random acts of violence in calling for Alexandre’s release. Throughout, they avowed their colleague’s innocence.
“Everybody will get shot — pregnant women, children, everybody — and that would be the government’s fault,” a Fantom 509 member told a reporter on Tripotay Lakay’s YouTube channel. “We will burn all of the government buildings. You think we’re playing? Start killing people in front of you so you can see?”
That was Sept. 12. Two days later on Sept. 14, the National Office of Identification (ONI) in Puits Blain, Port-au-Prince burned down.
On Sept. 16, Fantom 509 members set ONI on fire again. With the help of residents, the alleged rogue officers set vehicles on fire as well, formed road blockades, and fired gunshots. No death nor injuries were reported.
Rameu Normil, PNH’s General Director, has said that Fantom 509’s wrongdoings did not honor the police force and he urged them to leave the group. His call for them to leave the group went unheeded.
Fantom 509 members had also called for the release of five other police officers by setting vehicles on fire Sept. 12. Those officers were arrested for leaving Monferrier Dorval’s residence, which they had been assigned to guard.
On Friday, Judge Renord Régis held the hearing that ended with Alexandre’s release.
The details of the hearing weren’t released. However, his attorney André Michel told Juno7 that the acts for which Alexandre was not even on the docket.