Connect with us

Published

on

A woman spent six years languishing in US immigration detention due to a “bogus” Interpol red notice stemming from a harassment campaign by a police officer in El Salvador.

Jessica Barahona Martinez, who is originally from the Central American country, told Sky News and its US partner NBC News about her ordeal in her first sit-down interview since her release.

During her time in detention, her sister died of cancer and she rarely saw her children after being moved to a facility more than 1,000 miles away from her family.

Ms Barahona Martinez’s lawyer Sandra Grossman describes it as one of the worst cases she had come across.

“We have been fighting bogus red notices for over 15 years,” she said.

“And I can tell you that this is one of the most egregious examples of Interpol abuse that we’ve ever seen.”

👉 Listen to episode 1 of Dirty Work above then tap here to find episodes 2, 3 and 4 wherever you get your podcasts 👈

The US is considered a leader in tackling Interpol abuse – in which authoritarian states use the notice system to target dissidents abroad, or when individuals use it in the service of private disputes.

While the US has specific legislation to prevent Interpol from being used for transnational repression, immigration authorities are ignoring guidance not to arrest people solely based on a red notice.

Jessica Barahona Martinez
Image:
Since her release, Ms Barahona Martinez has been trying to repair her mental health

Ms Barahona Martinez said her ordeal began when a local police officer in her hometown in El Salvador began a campaign of harassment, targeting her due to her sexuality.

She said he initially accused her of being interested in his girlfriend, and went on to sexually harass and assault her in the town’s market.

“He talked to me like I was nothing, like I was trash,” she said. “He called me a waste of a woman.”

Dangerous allegation

Eventually, the police officer accused Ms Barahona Martinez of extortion, for the amount of roughly $30, and said she was part of a gang – which is considered an extremely serious allegation in El Salvador.

The country has a long history of gang violence, and at one point had the highest murder rate in the world.

The subsequent crackdown has been effective but brutal; human rights groups say it has included torture and arbitrary detention, while police have bragged about being able to “arrest anyone we want”.

Jessica Barahona Martinez reunited with her family. Pic: ACLU
Image:
Jessica Barahona Martinez reunited with her family. Pic: ACLU

Ms Barahona Martinez spent nine months detained in El Salvador waiting for a court date, until her case was dismissed for lack of evidence in March 2015.

Upon her release, the harassment resumed. She said the same car would drive by her house each night.

Ms Barahona Martinez has three children from a previous relationship, and says she started receiving threatening phone calls from a person who listed her children’s names and where they went to school.

In May 2016, a year after her case was dismissed in El Salvador, Ms Barahona Martinez fled to the US. She submitted an official asylum application in April 2017.

However, she was unaware that police in El Salvador had attempted to re-open her case in the meantime.

She did not show up for a subsequent court appearance, and so local police circulated a red notice via Interpol.

Immigration officers in the US are not supposed to detain somebody purely on the basis of a red notice.

But when Ms Barahona Martinez attended her monthly check-in with immigration authorities on a Friday in June, she was told to head home and pack her bags, say goodbye to her children and report to a detention centre the following Monday morning.

Two asylum bids

Ms Barahona Martinez first learned she had been detained due to a red notice when she was denied bail a month later.

She would spend six years in detention.

Twice she was granted asylum. Two separate immigration judges found her claims of persecution in El Salvador credible – in 2018 and again in 2019.

However, both times an immigration board overturned the asylum decision, citing the existence of the red notice.

Authorities claimed the red notice meant that Ms Barahona Martinez was banned from refugee status under a rule called the mandatory non-political crime bar, which is designed to prevent people who have committed crimes abroad from seeking asylum after they have gone on the run.

But for Ms Barahona Martinez, the red notice resulted from – and was evidence of – the very persecution she was escaping.

Nevertheless, she was detained for the entirety of her asylum proceedings.

Ms Grossman said this was because of a disconnect between US policy and practice when it comes to Interpol notices.

‘Fundamental misunderstanding’

Although the US government guidelines state that a red notice should not automatically lead to detention, in practice that is what happens in the immigration system.

“I think this might hopefully be changing in the United States, but it appears in most of these cases that the red notice is sort of looked at as evidence of criminality and often as conclusive evidence of criminality,” Ms Grossman said.

“There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding in the United States about what a red notice is and is not.”

What is an Interpol red notice?

An Interpol red notice is a request to law enforcement all around the world to locate and detain an individual, pending extradition back to the country that put in the request or other legal action.

It is not an international arrest warrant, but it is the highest alert a country can make.

There are eight alerts in total, seven of which are colour-coded, while an eighth can only be used by the UN’s Security Council.

Most red notices can only be used by law enforcement.

The individuals are wanted by the requesting member country, or international tribunal, but each country applies their own laws in deciding whether to arrest someone.

Parts of a red notice may be published, if requested, if there is a feeling the public’s help may be needed to locate the person or if the individual poses a threat.

There are currently nearly 7,000 Interpol red notices in effect – just 12 coming from the UK.

Ms Grossman believes that if Interpol was more transparent about the ways in which red notices can go wrong, both officials and victims of Interpol abuse would be better equipped to respond.

“It would be really helpful for cases where there’s bogus red notices involved for Interpol to be much more open about the fact that this happens,” she said.

Ms Barahona Martinez’s case came to light after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) met with her on one of their regular tours of detention centres in early 2023.

They then turned to Ms Grossman for specialist help.

When she petitioned Interpol’s review body she received an unusually swift reply telling her the red notice had been deleted.

From shock to panic

Still, Ms Barahona Martinez remained in detention until September last year, when she was released without warning after several interview requests by Sky News and the filing of a habeas petition by the ACLU, which would have seen her case brought before a higher judge.

Read more:
El Salvador opens 40,000-inmate prison in ‘war against gangs’
10,000 police and soldiers to seal off entire El Salvador town

On 28 September, as Ms Barahona Martinez was working in the kitchen at a Louisiana detention centre, an immigration official sought her out to inform her she was being released the following day.

She told Sky News she was so shocked that she told the officer there must have been a mistake.

However, her shock soon turned to panic. After six years inside, she was not sure how she would cope with the outside world or even how to get back to her family.

Jessica Barahona Martinez with her family
Image:
Jessica Barahona Martinez with her family

“What was I going to find outside? I spoke to my mother, I said to her ‘Mum, what if I get lost?’ It was something that I honestly wasn’t prepared for at the time. And she told me, ‘You’re not going to get lost. We will find you’.”

The day after Ms Barahona was released, US authorities published updated guidance, reiterating that immigration officers shouldn’t detain people solely on the basis of a red notice.

‘Very robust system’

In an earlier episode of Sky News’ Dirty Work podcast, Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock defended the red notice system.

He said: “I think it is a very robust system, and it is a very successful system first and foremost because it helps almost every day around the world to catch dangerous fugitives, murderers, rapists, those who are exploiting children, drug traffickers.”

When asked about people ending up with a notice that should not have been issued, he said: “[It is] a small number of cases, but of course, very often significant cases that end up in the media and where we say, yes, this notice should not have been published.

“Every one of those cases is a case too many because we know the consequences this might have,” he said.

A spokesperson for the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) said: “Regardless of nationality, ICE makes custody determinations on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with US law and US department of homeland security policy, considering the circumstances of each case.”

Continue Reading

US

Executor of OJ Simpson’s will wants to block $33.5m payout to families

Published

on

By

Executor of OJ Simpson's will wants to block .5m payout to families

The executor of OJ Simpson’s estate has said he will try to prevent a $33.5m (£27m) payout to the families of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman.

The former NFL star and Hollywood actor was cleared of their double murder in 1995 in what was dubbed the “trial of the century” but later found liable for the deaths in a civil lawsuit.

Simpson died on Wednesday aged 76 from cancer without having paid the majority of the 1997 judgment but the Goldman and Brown families could be in line to get some of what he left behind.

His will was filed in a Clark County court in Nevada on Friday, naming his lawyer Malcolm LaVergne as the executor.

The document shows Simpson’s property was placed into a trust that was created this year, but Mr LaVergne told the Las Vegas Review-Journal his entire estate has not yet been tallied.

OJ Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson in 1993.
Pic: AP
Image:
OJ Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson in 1993. Pic: AP

The will lists his four children and notes that any beneficiary who seeks to challenge provisions of the will “shall receive, free of trust, one dollar and no more in lieu of any claimed interest in this will or its assets”.

Mr LaVergne, who had represented Simpson since 2009, said he specifically did not want the Goldman family seeing any money from Simpson’s estate.

More from World

“It’s my hope that the Goldmans get zero, nothing,” he told the Review-Journal. “Them specifically. And I will do everything in my capacity as the executor or personal representative to try and ensure that they get nothing.”

Read more:
OJ Simpson has died at the age of 76
OJ murder trial: How the dramatic court case unfolded

Hundreds of valuable possessions had been seized as part of the jury award and Simpson said he lived only on his NFL and private pensions.

Simpson, nicknamed “The Juice”, was acquitted after a 1995 criminal trial watched by millions worldwide, where he famously tried on a pair of blood-stained gloves allegedly found at the scene of the crime.

The gloves appeared to be too small, leading defence attorney Johnnie Cochran to say: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Ronald Goldman
Image:
Ronald Goldman

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

How OJ Simpson’s trial unfolded

Speaking to Sky News following Simpson’s death, the Goldman family’s lawyer David Cook said: “I review and consider Simpson as what he was: that he was a bad person; he was a murderer; he got out of the acquittal here.

“He remains now and in his death as the day that he committed the crime in whatever the amount of years ago.

“He’s still the same person. And the fact that he died doesn’t change it.”

Mr Goldman’s father Fred Goldman told Sky’s partner network NBC News earlier that Simpson’s death was “no great loss”.

“The only thing I have to say is it’s just a further reminder of Ron being gone all these years,” he said.

“It’s no great loss to the world. It’s a further reminder of Ron being gone.”

Continue Reading

US

OJ Simpson murder trial: How the dramatic court case unfolded

Published

on

By

OJ Simpson murder trial: How the dramatic court case unfolded

Former American footballer and actor OJ Simpson, who has died of cancer, will be remembered most for his role at the centre of the “trial of the century”.

Accused of double murder, his case captured the attention of the US until it came to a dramatic end in late 1995.

Here’s a look back at how that trial unfolded.

12 June 1994

Simpson‘s ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson was found dead in front of her home in Los Angeles with her friend Ronald Goldman, who was a waiter at a restaurant where she had just dined.

The pair had been stabbed to death outside her home in the neighbourhood of Brentwood.

Read more:
OJ Simpson has died at the age of 76, his family says

OJ Simpson and Nicole Brown
Pic:MediaPunch/AP
Image:
OJ Simpson and Nicole Brown. Pic:MediaPunch/AP

17 June 1994

After the bodies were found, suspicion quickly fell on Simpson, who had been married to Nicole for seven years until their divorce became final on 15 October 1992, little more than 18 months before her death.

Simpson had been ordered by prosecutors to surrender, but on this day, carrying a passport and a disguise, he instead fled, with friend and former team-mate Al Cowlings in a white Ford Bronco.

A white Ford Bronco, driven by Al Cowlings and carrying OJ Simpson, being trailed by Los Angeles police on 17 June , 1994. Pic: AP
Image:
OJ Simpson trailed by Los Angeles police on 17 June 1994. Pic: AP

The vehicle was soon spotted on a California freeway and pursued by police in a car chase that was televised live across the country and watched by an estimated 95 million viewers.

Cowlings, in a phone call to police, said Simpson was lying in the back seat of the car holding a gun to his own head. After eventually driving to his Brentwood home he was persuaded to surrender.

Sky News’ Steve Bennedik recalls how Simpson’s trial was covered

It was the first few weeks of 1995 when Sky News’ live coverage of the OJ Simpson court case got under way. Each evening we showed the trial and invited questions. In those days, the main form of correspondence was by letter.

But there was also a new electronic method emerging, called email. And the first of these had the simple, but deflating, sentence: “Which one is OJ?”

We asked ourselves: Is our audience ready to follow the story of a very American tragedy unfold on British TV? We decided to stick with it.

In contrast, OJ Simpson was a household name in the US. So much more than an ex-football star. But the shock of this icon being arrested for murder, the bizarre Bronco highway chase, the high-profile celebrity defence team, and ultimately the “did he do it?” question had universal attraction.

Although the case stuttered through until October, the weak Judge Lance Ito was obsequious to lawyers’ demands for delays, but the interest among Sky News viewers surged and remained undimmed.

As the court camera panned to the state of California seal, signalling another adjournment, we and no doubt the viewer sighed.

More behind-the-scenes legal wrangling, but we had an ace up our sleeve – Professor Gary Solis. Gary is a Vietnam veteran, former military judge advocate, with alma maters including George Washington University and the London School of Economics.

At the time, he was in London and ready to give up his evenings. He calmly steered our presenters, Laurie and Vivien, and our often puzzled viewers through the complexities of the Californian legal system and became a firm favourite with the newsroom and the public alike.

The court characters emerged. Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden for the prosecution, and the “Dream Team” defence – Jonnie Cochran, F Lee Bailey, Alan Dershowitz and Robert Kardashian, whose children would go on to outshine his fame.

It was compelling court drama, but it was also the very tragic story of two young people who’d been savagely attacked and murdered, with their families devastated by the loss, and tormented by the lingering back and forth court battle.

The proceedings had lasted months, but the jury reached their verdict in just a few hours and when they returned to the courtroom to deliver it, an early evening audience in the UK was hanging on every moment. And then it was over. OJ was a free man.

The People of the State of California v Orenthal James Simpson faded as a memory, flickering back to life with the news of his death.

24 January 1995

The murder trial, dubbed the “trial of the century” by the media, began.

Prosecutors argued OJ Simpson had killed Nicole and Ron in a jealous rage, and they presented extensive blood, hair and fibre tests linking him to the murders.

Follow Sky News on WhatsApp
Follow Sky News on WhatsApp

Keep up with all the latest news from the UK and around the world by following Sky News

Tap here

The defence countered that the celebrity defendant was framed by racist white police.

15 June 1995

Perhaps the defining moment of the trial came on a Thursday in June, when the prosecution committed what a defence lawyer would later describe as the “greatest legal blunder of the 20th century”.

OJ Simpson grasps a marker while wearing the leather gloves prosecutors say he wore the night his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered.
Pic: Reuters
Image:
OJ Simpson grasps a marker while wearing the leather gloves prosecutors say he wore on the night of the murder. Pic: Reuters

On this day, a prosecutor asked him to put on a pair of gloves believed to have been worn by the killer.

The gloves appeared to be too small, as OJ Simpson struggled to put on the gloves in a highly theatrical demonstration and indicated to the jury they did not fit.

Click to subscribe to the Sky News Daily wherever you get your podcasts

This led defence lawyer Johnnie Cochran to famously state in his closing argument: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

3 October 1995

The trial came to an end with two words – not guilty.

Read more:
OJ Simpson a ‘completely free man’ after being released from parole

OJ Simpson, who maintained from the outset he was “absolutely 100% not guilty”, waved at the jurors and mouthed the words “thank you”.

Continue Reading

US

Disney cracks down on disability access rules that allow guests to avoid queues

Published

on

By

Disney cracks down on disability access rules that allow guests to avoid queues

Disney has announced it is making changes to its policy that helps guests with disabilities avoid queuing after people who do not meet the criteria have been exploiting current rules.

The company’s Disability Access Service programme (DAS) was launched in 2013 to assist guests who are unable to wait in ride queues for an extended period of time, according to Disney‘s website.

It allows guests with a “developmental disability such as autism or similar” to return to an attraction at a certain time without having to wait in line – similar to a fast-track pass.

Under the current policy six people from the same group are allowed to use the pass at one time, but from next month, in certain parks this is being cut down to four.

It is unclear from guidance on the company’s website if families of six or more people will be exempt from the changes or not.

Guests will also have to wait 120 days before they can reapply for the DAS programme, double the current 60 days.

A Disney spokesperson said on Friday that DAS is the most popular requested service at Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California and applications have trebled in the past five years, Sky News’ US partner network, NBC, reported.

The spokesperson said the surge in numbers includes those who try to use the service when it is not intended for them.

Len Testa, president of itinerary planning website Touring Plans and co-author of the Unofficial Guides to Walt Disney World and Disneyland, said in an email to The Washington Post: “The system has always had some level of questionable use, if not abuse.”

Read more:
Disney+ launches crackdown on password sharing
Disney hit gets a surprise sequel
Disney loses copyright of early version of cartoon character

Guests are currently required to meet with a Disney staff member – known as cast members – before their visit to determine their eligibility for the DAS programme.

Disney said when necessary, staff will work with healthcare professionals to help them “determine eligibility for appropriate accommodations and ensure that these accommodations are provided only for the guests for whom they are intended”.

A spokesperson reiterated that the parks do not require proof or documentation of disabilities from guests and do not plan to do so in the future, according to NBC.

Those who are found to have lied about a disability can be permanently banned from entering the parks, with any remaining tickets or passes not refunded, the company website states.

The new rules are expected to come into force on 20 May at Florida‘s Disney World and on 18 June in Disneyland, California.

A Disney official told NBC: “Disney is dedicated to providing a great experience for all guests, including those with disabilities, which is why we are so committed to delivering a wide range of innovative support services aimed at helping our guests with disabilities have a wonderful time when visiting our theme parks.”

Continue Reading

Trending