Jean v. DorelienHaiti: The High Command and the Raboteau Massacre
431 F.3d 776 (11th Cir. 2005)
CJA filed parallel cases in Florida state and U.S. federal courts against Colonel Carl Dorélien, a former member of the Haitian Military’s High Command who had command responsibility for human rights abuses committed under the 1991-1994 dictatorship in Haiti. After the collapse of the military regime, Dorélien fled to the U.S, where his presence became widely known after he won $3.2 million in the 1997 Florida state lottery.
In February 2007, a federal jury found Dorélien liable for torture, extrajudicial killing, arbitrary detention and crimes against humanity. Dorélien was ordered to pay $4.3 million in damages. Six months later, CJA successfully recovered Dorélien’s remaining lottery funds for our clients and distributed $580,000 to our clients: Lexiuste Cajuste, Marie Jeanne Jean and her children.
In September 1991, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown by elements of the Haitian Armed Forces. From the 1991 coup until the armed U.S. intervention in October 1994, the de facto military regime presided over one of the bloodiest periods in modern Haitian history. An estimated 4,000 civilians were killed and several hundred thousand were tortured, imprisoned, or forced into exile by the Haitian Armed Forces. Our clients in Jean v. Dorelien were survivors of this state-sponsored violence.
In 1993, Lexiuste Cajuste was arbitrarily detained and severely tortured by Haitian military forces under Dorélien’s command because of his role as a union organizer and pro-democracy activist. Under international pressure, Cajuste was eventually released and fled to the United States. Miraculously, he survived the torture, but to this day suffers severe physical disabilities as a result.
On April 22, 1994, military and paramilitary forces gunned down Marie Jeanne Jean’s husband, Michel Pierre, during a massacre of civilians in the impoverished seaside neighborhood of Raboteau in Gonaïves. Units of the Haitian Armed Forces, together with members of the paramilitary group known as FRAPH—an acronym for Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti—invaded Raboteau and killed at least two dozen and possibly as many as one hundred unarmed civilians. Many of those killed were shot in boats and fell or were dumped into the ocean, making it difficult to measure the total death toll. Human bodies—mutilated by their attackers or eaten by sharks—washed up on the beaches for days after the attack.
Read here for more information on CJA’s case against FRAPH leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant. »
The Raboteau Criminal Trial in Haiti
The survivors of the Raboteau massacre started fighting for justice the very next day, when they filed complaints in Haiti with a local judge. CJA partner, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), later filed complaints against senior military and paramilitary leaders, and brought the case to a successful 6-week trial in Haitian courts in 2000. The Haitian trial resulted in the conviction of Dorélien and 52 other soldiers and death squad members as well as a large damage award.
Read here for more on the Raboteau Massacre Trial in Haiti. »
On January 24, 2003, CJA filed an ATS/TVPA suit against Colonel Dorélien in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The complaint was served on Dorélien on January 25, 2003, while he was in the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, following his detention in 2001 in connection with his role in human rights abuses. On January 27, 2003, U.S. authorities deported Dorélien to Haiti.
Upon Dorélien’s repatriation in Haiti, he was taken into custody for the in absentia conviction in the Raboteau trial. However, one year later, when violence erupted in 2004 and President Aristide was again ousted from office, Dorélien and others convicted in the Raboteau trial escaped from jail. He currently lives freely and openly in Haiti.
Dismissal & Appeal
On April 21, 2004, the District Court dismissed the case, holding that the claims of Lexiuste Cajuste were not filed within the Alien Tort Statute’s 10-year statute of limitations and that Marie Jean had not exhausted other legal remedies available to her in Haiti.
On December 1, 2005, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned this decision, and held that the extraordinary circumstances of the 1993-1994 Haitian military dictatorship barred the plaintiffs from timely filing suit, thus the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled. The 11th Circuit also spoke to the exhaustion of remedies, holding that the ATS has no such requirement and that the TVPA requires that the defendant prove that remedies remain available. The Court sent the case back to the lower court for trial.
Trial & Verdict
On February 23, 2007, a federal jury in Miami found Dorélien culpable of torture, extrajudicial killing, arbitrary detention and crimes against humanity. He was ordered to pay $4.3 million in damages. On August 16, 2007, after Dorelién failed to challenge the verdict, a final judgment was entered against him. His time to file an appeal has since expired, making the judgment absolute.
STATE CASE IN FLORIDA
While Dorélien was living in the United States, he won over $3 million in the Florida state lottery, through yearly payments of $159,000. After CJA filed the federal case in January 2003, Dorélien attempted to sell off his rights to the annual lottery payments in exchange for a lump sum.
Freezing Dorélien’s Lottery Payments
CJA, in conjunction with co-counsel law firm Holland & Knight and solo attorney John Thornton, successfully intervened before the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit in Leon County, Florida and opposed the proposed deal. They argued that Dorélien’s attempt to convert his yearly payments into a lump sum constituted a fraudulent transfer that sought to keep his assets out of the reach of his creditors, including CJA’s clients.
In September 2004, CJA obtained an order from the Florida state court blocking the transfer of nearly $1 million to Dorélien. Instead, the judge ordered that the money be paid into an escrow account under the court’s control.
Asset Recovery & Distribution
CJA then moved to domesticate the Haitian civil judgment in the Raboteau Massacre Trial in order to make it enforceable in Florida. In August 2006, the state court ruled that the Haitian judgment was enforceable in the U.S. Dorélien appealed. On August 8, 2007, the Florida First District Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s enforcement of the Haitian judgment, thus exhausting Dorélien's appeals. Based on the domesticated Haitian judgment, CJA and co-counsel were able to recover the money in the escrow account.
As a result, in January and April 2008, $580,000 was distributed to our clients: Lexiuste Cajuste, Marie Jeanne Jean and her children. Cajuste is using a portion of the recovery to help fund The Hope Center for Haitian Refugees, an organization he founded to provide social services to Haitian refugees. Jean is dividing her share among the other 90 survivors of the Raboteau massacre. In May 2008, over $400,000 was distributed to the Raboteau victims at a community meeting in Gonaives, Haiti. The timing of this distribution was particularly significant in the context of the 2008 Haitian food crisis.