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Boniface v. Viliena

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 31, 2018




         Plaintiffs David Boniface, Nissage Martyr, and Juders Ysemé, residents of Les Irois, Haiti, allege that Defendant, as the mayor of Les Irois and the leader of a political party opposed to the party that Plaintiffs support, committed human rights abuses in violation of the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”), 28 U.S.C. § 1350, and the Torture Victim Protection Act (“TVPA”), Pub. L. No. 102-256, 106 Stat. 73 (1992), 28 U.S.C. § 1350 (codified at note). Now before the Court are Defendant's motion to dismiss [ECF No. 46] and Plaintiffs' motion to substitute Nissandère Martyr as plaintiff in place of Nissage Martyr [ECF No. 29]. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part, and the motion to substitute is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are drawn from the complaint, the allegations of which are taken as true for purposes of evaluating the motion to dismiss. Ruivo v. Wells Fargo Bank, 766 F.3d 87, 90 (1st Cir. 2014).

         Defendant Jean Morose Viliena is a citizen of Haiti and a lawful permanent resident of the United States. He currently resides in or around Malden, Massachusetts, and is or was employed as a school bus driver in Massachusetts. The Plaintiffs, David Boniface, Nissage Martyr, and Juders Ysemé, are citizens of Haiti who reside (or resided) in the town of Les Irois, Haiti. Boniface and Martyr are supporters of a political party in Les Irois, the Struggling People's Party, which opposes the party with which Defendant is affiliated, the Haitian Democratic and Reform Movement (“MODEREH”).

         On February 29, 2004, former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a violent coup d'état. The 2004 coup left a power vacuum in Haiti, and in its aftermath, a large array of political parties-at least 70 nationwide-competed for popular support. Since the 2004 coup, government institutions have remained weak and unable to reestablish the rule of law. Plaintiffs assert that the Haitian National Police is chronically undertrained and underfunded, and suffers from corruption and brutality, and that Haiti's justice system is dysfunctional, with widespread corruption, politicization, and a lack of training and resources.

         Plaintiffs represent that, in the absence of stable security forces and judicial accountability, political parties and rival government officials have used informal armed groups to gain and exercise power. They assert that armed groups aligned with political parties regularly engage in violence against political opponents, journalists, and human rights advocates.

         In December 2006, Defendant ran for mayor of Les Irois as a candidate for the MODEREH party. Defendant's main rival in the election was a candidate from the Struggling People's Party. Defendant won the election, and he held the office of Mayor until approximately February 2010. Plaintiffs assert that, as a candidate and as Mayor, Defendant was backed by a powerful political machine known as KOREGA, which exerts control over politics in the southwestern region of Haiti, including Les Irois, through a system of patronage, threats, and violence. Plaintiffs assert that KOREGA engaged in voter fraud, intimidation, and violence to ensure that Defendant was elected mayor. Once Defendant was elected Mayor, Plaintiffs contend that he became the head of the Les Irois branch of KOREGA and exercised control over the KOREGA militia's operations in Les Irois, using violence to accomplish his political ends. Plaintiffs assert that the KOREGA militia operated as an extension of Mayor Viliena's office in Les Irois. At all relevant times, Defendant personally supervised his mayoral staff and security detail.

         Defendant fled to the Boston area in or around January 2009 following the opening of a criminal investigation into his human rights abuses and those of his associates. Plaintiffs assert that, throughout 2009, Defendant continued to serve as mayor of Les Irois and exercise control over the KOREGA militia from Massachusetts. They further assert that Defendant continued to work closely with his associates in Les Irois to coordinate and implement the continued repression of perceived political opponents, and that Defendant made trips to Haiti in support of this goal.

         On or around August 27, 2012, Defendant was appointed by former Haitian President Michel Martelly to serve as the “Interim Executive Agent” for Les Irois. Through this position, he continued to exercise the functions of Mayor of Les Irois from Massachusetts. Plaintiffs believe that his term as Interim Executive Agent expired in or around October 2015. He no longer holds public office in Haiti.

         A. Death of Eclesiaste Boniface, July 27, 2007

         On the morning of July 27, 2007, Defendant was accompanying a sanitation crew through the streets of Les Irois when he got into a dispute with a resident, Ostanie Mersier, about the disposal of garbage. After Defendant hit Mersier on the head with his gun, she left to file an incident report with the local Justice of the Peace, Judge Saint Bell, and Defendant followed her to demand her arrest.

         As a trial monitor for a local human rights organization, Plaintiff Boniface came to observe the proceedings before Judge Bell. Boniface also spoke on Mersier's behalf and accused Defendant of abusing his authority by assaulting Mersier. As Boniface was leaving, he encountered Defendant, along with members of the KOREGA militia, members of the mayoral staff, and two of Judge Bell's cousins. They surrounded Boniface and threatened him with violence, but a group of bystanders intervened and escorted Boniface to Plaintiff Martyr's home. Defendant and his associates followed Boniface and continued to threaten and attempt to hit Boniface until Defendant instructed his associates to let him go, because they would “take care of him later.”

         That evening, Defendant and an associate from the KOREGA militia appeared near Boniface's home. They ordered the residents in the area to remain behind closed doors and announced that later that night, the paramilitaries would appear and show no mercy. Later that evening, Defendant led a group of approximately twelve men from the KOREGA militia, armed with firearms, machetes, clubs, and picks, to Boniface's home. The group included members of the mayoral staff and Judge Bell's cousins. At that time, David Boniface was not at home, but was attending church. His younger brother, 23-year-old Eclesiaste Boniface, answered the door, and Defendant personally supervised as his associates dragged Eclesiaste into a crowd of about thirty bystanders. Eclesiaste pleaded with the crowd, saying that he was uninvolved and had no problems with anyone. Despite his pleas, Defendant's associates lunged at Eclesiaste with a machete, and then one of them fired his gun, killing Eclesiaste. Neighbors ran to David Boniface's church to warn him that Eclesiaste had been killed and that Defendant and the KOREGA militia were now looking for him. The church pastor sheltered Boniface overnight.

         B. Assault on Martyr and Ysemé, April 8, 2008

         In or around March 2008, a committee of local journalists and activists founded a community radio station in Les Irois called New Vision Radio, which was to be the first local radio station in the town. Radio serves as a primary news source in Haiti due to high rates of illiteracy. The radio station was financed and operated with support from two Struggling People's Party politicians. It rented a room from Plaintiff Martyr and operated out of his home. Throughout March and early April 2008, station volunteers ran test broadcasts to determine the reach of the signal. Plaintiff Ysemé, who was in high school at the time, enjoyed spending time at the station before and after class, though he was not employed by the station.

         Defendant was opposed to the radio station, and on the day the station launched, in late March of 2008, Defendant called in to the station and declared his intent to shut the station down. On or about March 27, 2008, a group of government officials visited Les Irois to mediate the dispute between Defendant and supporters of the radio station. The delegation included the prosecutor from a neighboring city, as well as Haitian National Police and officers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. After the meeting, the officials instructed Defendant not to shut the radio station down, and he agreed.

         On or about April 8, 2008, Defendant met a group of approximately 30 KOREGA militia members near Martyr's residence. Defendant distributed firearms to the militia members, some of whom also carried machetes, picks, and sledge hammers. Defendant's associates began firing in the air as they walked toward Martyr's house. Martyr and Ysemé were sitting on the front porch. Hearing the gunshots, Ysemé ran through the house to the backyard. Martyr started to get up from the porch to go inside, seeking to protect his wife and daughters who were inside.

         Defendant grabbed Martyr and dragged him down the hallway. Defendant pointed his handgun at Martyr's ear and told him to leave the house. Martyr refused to leave because his family remained in the house. Defendant shouted that Martyr wanted to stay so that he could report the attack. Defendant then swept Martyr's feet out from under him, forcing him to the floor. He started beating Martyr on his sides and chest, pistol-whipping Martyr with his gun and striking him with his fists. Several members of the KOREGA militia and the mayor's staff joined in the assault, Defendant struck Martyr hard in the chest, causing Martyr to collapse face forward. The militia members left Martyr on the floor and carried the broadcasting equipment out the door, at the direction of Defendant.

         Meanwhile, a member of the KOREGA militia spotted Plaintiff Ysemé in the backyard. He accused Ysemé of wanting to report the attack, grabbed him, and dragged him into the house. One member of the militia restrained Ysemé as others beat him on his head and the sides of his body. Defendant, who was striking Martyr, turned to Ysemé and said that he “wanted him.” While Martyr was lying on the floor in pain, he saw that the front door was open, and he ran to the doorway to escape. Ysemé, who had managed to slip free, followed him and ran toward the door. Some of Defendant's associates tackled Martyr as he tried to run. Ysemé ran past him, onto the street. Martyr broke free again and followed Ysemé onto the street. Seeing them trying to escape, Defendant ordered one of his associates, Villeme Duclona, to shoot and kill Martyr and Ysemé. Duclona opened fire with his shotgun, hitting Martyr in the leg and Ysemé in the face. Defendant and the KOREGA militia members then seized the rest of the radio equipment and fled the scene. They left Martyr and Ysemé for dead.

         Martyr and Ysemé survived the attack, but both were left with severe, permanent injuries. Martyr spent several months in the hospital as a result of his wounds, and his injured leg was amputated above the knee. Ysemé also required months of intensive medical treatment, including two surgeries to extract shotgun pellets from his face. He is permanently blind in one eye and still has pieces of shotgun pellets in his scalp and arms. He continues to suffer from dizziness and migraine headaches as a result of his injuries.

         C. Arson of 36 Homes, October 29, 2009

         In or around January 2009, Defendant fled to the United States after Haitian authorities launched a criminal investigation into the killing of Eclesiaste Boniface and the attack on the radio station. Plaintiffs assert that he continued to hold the office of mayor and exercised control over the KOREGA militia from Massachusetts.

         In or around October 2009, Hautefort Bajon, Defendant's Chief of Staff, fell ill. On October 27, 2009, KOREGA supporters, led by Defendant, who was then in Haiti, marched through the streets of Les Irois, threatening to kill people and burn down houses if Bajon died. Defendant publicly declared that the Struggling People's Party had placed a voodoo curse on Bajon. The next day, October 28, 2009, Defendant and members of the KOREGA militia, again marched through the streets. Bajon died on October 29. Shortly thereafter, Defendant went into the town market with several KOREGA associates and started to strike perceived supporters of the Struggling People's Party, accusing them of causing Bajon's death.

         On the night of October 29, members of the KOREGA militia and mayoral staff, acting in concert with Defendant, set fire to 36 homes, all belonging to Struggling People's Party supporters, to avenge the death of Bajon. The homes of Martyr, Ysemé, and the Boniface family were burned and rendered uninhabitable.

         D. Pursuit of Remedies in Haiti

         Plaintiffs Boniface, Martyr, and Ysemé assert that they have pursued all avenues for justice in Haiti to no avail. Since 2007, although they have lodged at least eight reports or complaints with Haitian law enforcement and judicial authorities, the U.N. Mission in Haiti, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Defendant still has not been held accountable. In response to Plaintiffs' complaints, the Haitian judiciary initially pursued a criminal investigation. In September 2008, a Haitian judge ordered Defendant's arrest, but he was provisionally released in December 2008, allegedly as a result of political pressure. Defendant and other members of the KOREGA militia then fled or went into hiding.

         In 2010, Defendant and 19 members of the KOREGA militia were indicted in Haiti for their involvement in the acts discussed in the Complaint. The indictment stated that the defendants would be tried in absentia, however, Defendant was never tried. Plaintiffs assert that Defendant has been able to return to Haiti without fear of prosecution.


         A. ...

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