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Jean v. Dorelien

Haiti: The High Command and the Raboteau Massacre

Jean v. Dorelien

Haiti: The High Command and the Raboteau Massacre



CJA filed parallel cases in Florida state court 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 United States, 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 thereafter fled to the United States.  Miraculously, he survived the torture, but to this day he 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 Revolutionary Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti- invaded Raboteau and killed at least two dozen and possibly as many as 100 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 for the plaintiffs.

»Read here for more on the Raboteau Massacre Trial in Haiti.


U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida


On January 24, 2003, CJA filed a civil lawsuit under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victim Prevention Act (TVPA) against 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 perpetrating 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 a convicion in absentia 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.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit

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 applicable to ATS claims 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, ruling that the extraordinary circumstances of the 1993-1994 Haitian military dictatorship excused the plaintiffs from timely filing the lawsuit. The 11th Circuit concluded that the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled, allowing the plaintiffs to bring their ATS claims.The 11th Circuit also spoke to the exhaustion of remedies, holding that the ATS has no such requirement and that the TVPA places the burden on the defendant, not the plaintiff, to prove that remedies remain available in the plaintiff's home country.  The court remanded the case to the district court for trial.

Trial & Verdict

On February 23, 2007, a federal jury in Miami found Dorélien liable for 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.

Florida State Court

While Dorélien was living in the United States, he won over $3.2 million in the 1997 Florida state lottery, collecting his winnings at the rate of about $159,000 per year. 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 pro bono 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, to oppose the proposed sale. CJA and pro bono 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 the plaintiffs in Jean v. Dorélien.

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 Florida state court ruled that the Haitian judgment was enforceable in the United States. 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 available 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.