MARIGOT–Some 65 persons have been arrested to date, mostly related to looting in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Capitaine Régis Turlan Arto confirmed on Thursday. Eleven persons alone were arrested on Wednesday.
The number also includes misdemeanours, petty crimes, drunken driving and verbal insults (outrage) against Gendarmes, but no armed robberies of the type normally prevalent before the onset of the hurricanes, he added. No murders have been recorded to date either since the hurricanes hit.
In one case, two brothers were arrested on Monday, September 18, for stealing goods from a shop in Marigot a day after Hurricane Irma passed. A warrant permitted Gendarmes to seize the goods (not described) from the home of one of the suspects. Also found in this house were three firearms. Both suspects were placed in custody at the station in Marigot. One was released the next day by the Prosecutor, but was given a summons to appear in court at a later date.
The other brother was transferred to Guadeloupe and will appear in court today in Guadeloupe for a fast-track trial (comparution immediate) for possession of weapons. He is currently in provisional detention.
In another incident, four suspects were arrested for stealing items such as refrigerators from Club Orient Resort in Orient Bay. Capitaine Arto said the public has been very helpful in calling the Gendarmerie when they see thefts taking place.
“We have found stolen goods either in homes or cars, but the problem is we don’t know who the victims are because these shops or businesses have not come forward yet to file complaints,” said Arto. “Clearly they have too many problems to deal with.”
He explained receipt of stolen goods (recel in French), even if you were not the one who stole them, carries a stiffer penalty than for the theft itself.
“Most of the sanctions are related to receipt of stolen goods. This carries a penalty of five years in prison compared to three years for the theft itself. Most of the thefts were committed in the 48 or 96 hours after the passing of the hurricane. After that there was no more looting when more Gendarme reinforcements arrived and curfews were put in place.”
Due to damage to the courthouse in Marigot, Prosecutors have set up a temporary office in the Marigot Gendarmerie. Arto said in most cases the Prosecutor is issuing summonses to suspects from six months to eight months in the future, not really knowing when the courthouse will be ready to judge cases again and because it is not possible to transfer so many suspects to Guadeloupe.
Currently more than 600 Gendarmes are in St. Martin, compared to 180 before the hurricanes. The number of Gendarmes in St. Barths has been increased to 35 from 21 and Police aux Frontieres (PAF) have been increased from 60 to 70. The reinforcements are scheduled to stay for three months.