Drama unfolded on Tuesday, October 27 at the compound of the Temple of Justice, when officers of the Liberia Durg Enforcement Agency (LDEA), allegedly acting under the authority of Montserrado County Attorney Cllr Edwin Martins, stormed the courtroom of Criminal Court ‘B’, where they took possession of six Nigerian nationals that were in the custody of the court.
The Nigerians were surrendered to the court based on a writ of habeas Corpus filed by the defense lawyer, Cllr Jonathan T. Massaquoi, praying the court to turn over the defendants who had been in the custody of the LDEA since Friday, October 23, after they were arrested and charged with possession of nacortic substance.
Habeas Corpus is used to bring a prisoner or other detainee (e.g. institutionalized mental patient) before the court to determine if the person’s imprisonment or detention is lawful. It started when Judge Roosevelt Willie, based on the writ, instructed Cllr Martins and bring the six defendants before him to hear whether or not the defendants had been in their custody for longer than the required period of detention under the law.
Interestingly, Judge Roosevelt Willie did not hear the matter but asked Cllr. Massaquoi to sign for the defendants and to bring them back to the court for continuation of the case. Shortly afterward, the clerk of the court prepared the necessary documents, which Cllr. Massaquoi signed and the defendants were placed in his care. Dramatically, while the defendants were in the possession of Cllr. Massaquoi, a group of LDEA officers, who had assembled at the entrance of the courtroom, forcibly took hold of the defendants and placed them in a vehicle that was parked in the compound of the Temple of Justice in total disregard to Judge Willie’s mandate.
It is not clear as to what decision Judge Willie is going to take over the action of the LDEA officers. Immediately after his clients were forced out of his possession, Cllr. Massaquoi told journalists at the court that the action of the Cllr. Martins was in total disregard for the statute and the Constitution of Liberia. Cllr. Massaquoi wondered as why the Cllr. Martins would allegedly disrespect the court order by forcefully seizing the defendants who had been entrusted on to his custody by the court.
According to Massaquoi, before he filed the petition before Judge Willie, he (Massaquoi) on numerous occasions contacted the administration of the LDEA to have the defendants released unto him. “But, they refused to allow me take possession of the defendants. This was an affront to the legal profession and to the statue and the Constitution,” Cllr. Massaquoi said, adding that the act was a gross abuse of power by Cllr. Martins. “Since their arrest, they were tortured and humiliated while in the cell of the LDEA,” Cllr. Massaquoi alleged. “The County Attorney Martins and the Ministry of Justice are not above the law and our law must be respected by all, including the government,” he warned, adding: “We are going to pursue this matter to the letter as prescribed by the statue and the Constitution.”