Attorneys call for criminal investigation into killing at sea of Venezuelan child

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Yaelvis Sarabia Santoyo.

Attorneys Christon Williams and Siddiq Manzano are calling for a criminal investigation into the shooting death of Yaelvis Sarabia Santoyo, the one-year-old Venezuelan boy who was allegedly killed by Coast Guard officers while being carried by his mother, who was trying to enter the country illegally.

Williams and Manzano also want a probe into whether there was witness- or evidence-tampering and any attempts to pervert the course of justice after the 29 other people on the boat, witnesses to the event on February 5, were repatriated to Venezuela shortly after.

In a letter to Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, SC, on Friday, the attorneys said: “The deportation of the witnesses, mentioned above, by the servants and/or agents of the Ministry of National Security and the Chief Immigration Officer, alludes to misbehaviour in public office and may be evidence of direct and intentional interference with a criminal investigation.”

The letter said five days after Yaelvis’ death, attorneys wrote to the Ministry of National Security, the Chief Immigration Officer and the Defence Force asking for the remaining occupants on the vessel to be issued minister’s permits which would allow them to remain in TT for a period.

The attorneys wrote to the Minister of National Security the day after, asking for information about the status of the migrants – whether they had been deported or not. While no response was received from the ministry, the letter said the attorneys were told all the migrants – witnesses to Yaelvis’ death – had been deported.

The attorneys wrote to the Chief of Defence Staff asking for “information and numerous documents to assist our client to resolve the incident that took place on February 5.”

However, the Vice Chief of Defence Staff, Brig Gen DL Francis, said none of the requested documents could be provided because they were exempt under section 25 of the Freedom of Information Act.

The attorneys responded that the exemptions were not a good enough justification for withholding the information. Francis and the Chief of Defence Staff responded in a letter outlining the “directions for opening fire.”

No other response was given to date, according to the attorneys’ letter.

“We were informed, however, that the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force has not conducted any investigation into the incident.”

The Coast Guard says its sailors were on patrol when they saw the boat. The officers the boat tried to ram their inflatable vessel, leading them to open fire after ordering the captain of the boat to stop. They said it was realised that there were several illegal immigrants hidden onboard only after the shots were fired, and the child was hit in the head.

The migrants claimed they got no warning from the Coast Guard.