Dominican raid of ‘sect’ compound under scrutiny
SOSUA, Dominican Republic (AP) — Police stormed the compound with guns drawn, killing a man and declaring they had uncovered a heavily armed European cult suspected of plotting against the government and trafficking in human organs.
They found no sign of any organ trafficking, but officials say something unusual was going on behind the walls of the Academy for Future Health, where several dozen mostly German expatriates had set up a secretive spiritual group whose website warns of UFOs, the evils of the U.S. government and looming global turmoil. More disturbingly, officers seized an arsenal that included military-grade assault weapons, other firearms, body armor, targets and a crossbow.
On Tuesday, a judge ruled there is enough evidence to try 62-year-old sect leader Peter Brunck and his son, Daniel Roland, on weapons violations and a charge of “rebellion.” They face up to 10 years in prison, and prosecutors said further counts are possible.
But nearly a year after the October raid, the police involved in the operation are also in prosecutors’ sights.
Authorities are looking into charges that officers beat Brunck and his son while they were handcuffed, shot at an unarmed gardener and stole some of the $1.5 million in cash and personal property confiscated in the operation.
“This was a looting,” says Jose Carlos Gonzalez, a lawyer for Brunck.
Ulrich Muhl, a spokesman for the group, dismissed allegations that anything sinister was going on at the compound. “The basic idea is to give people a place to live ... a tranquil, spiritual life, to search for the truth,” he said, adding that members of the group were armed because they feared crime.
“We are not criminals,” Muhl said. “None of the things they said about us have been confirmed, nor can they be, because it’s all a big lie.”
Still, the group’s mix of firearms and apocalyptic musings has many concerned, including some who have seen Brunck’s teachings first hand.
The Academy for Future Health’s German-language website says the planet is “cleansing itself of the debris that lives on its surface,” and goes on to mention aspects of the global financial crisis, extraterrestrials and the looming fall of the “inhuman” U.S. government.
Klaus Muller, a disaffected former member who lives near the compound, said Brunck had predicted the world would come to a catastrophic end in August 2012 and had stockpiled food, weapons and equipment, including an ambulance at the compound in Sosua, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) north of Santo Domingo.
Everyone in the compound, no matter what age, were required to learn how to shoot, he said.
“These people don’t live in reality,” Muller said of the two-dozen or so families on the 50-acre site.
Surveillance videos of the raid provided by the group show police in body armor descending on the gated entry of the compound of red-tiled Spanish-style homes. Several officers are seen kicking and hitting Brunck as he argues with them in his German-accented Spanish. Shots rang out shortly after officers went in. Police shot and killed group member Peter Dittrich, and arrested his wife for allegedly shooting back at them.
Two high-ranking officers have already been suspended, and prosecutors say 11 other officers are suspected of robbery. In addition, three officers stand accused of using unprovoked force. If convicted, several of the Dominican police could face even more jail time than the two Germans.
Allegations of misconduct by Dominican police are common. Several high-ranking officers have been charged in recent years with aiding drug traffickers. In November, the country saw some of the largest demonstrations in years, fueled in part by the fatal police shooting of an unarmed university student. A 2011 Amnesty International report said police killed more than 2,000 people from 2005 through 2010, accounting for about 15 percent of all homicides.
Dominican Attorney General Dominguez Brito acknowledged that some of the $1.5 million in electronic devices, jewelry, vehicles, cash and other property that police seized had gone missing, and vowed to punish any officers involved.
Local prosecutor Alba Nunez said investigators had uncovered a number of police “irregularities,” including allegations that police shot an unarmed Haitian gardener without provocation and assaulted compound residents. Nunez said she expects some officers will face charges of aggravated robbery, which can carry a sentence of up to 20 years.
But she added that the members of the spiritual group were far from blameless.
“The German citizens want to present themselves just as victims but that’s not the case,” she said. “They have committed very serious crimes.”