Liberia: Disrobed Army Personnel Arrested over Kidnapping and Torturing of 27 Men; Two Men Remain Missing
Monrovia – The Liberia National Police, acting on a complaint—including a writ of arrest, search and seizure warrant—from the family of a missing man and journalRAGE’s story which was lifted on FrontPage Africa, have arrested Cheeseman Cole.
Report by Gboko Stewart, [email protected]
Win Kortee (named modified to protect his identity) reported to be one of the victims of the army personnel, has been missing since Sunday, October 4, and is yet to be found. According to family sources, his girlfriend heard a shrieking voice, wailing from torture when the missing man’s cellphone was called on Tuesday, October 6.
This, family sources said, prompted them to file a report for missing person with the Liberia National Police and subsequently obtaining an arrest warrant and a writ for search and seizure when it was gathered that Kortee may have been kidnapped by Cole.
Acting on this intelligence, the Police—heavily armed and fortified—arrested Cole (who was found hiding in his house) and an accomplice of his who appears to be a teenager, as well three community dwellers who unsuccessfully tried to obstruct the function of the Police and the Sheriff of the court.
The suspect’s home was searched and many dangerous weapons were found, including a pistol, according to an officer who formed part of the raid and arrest speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Cheeseman Cole, reportedly a Military Police (MP) officer of the Armed Forces of Liberia who was dishonorably discharged due to acts of criminality, is the center of allegations of brutality and torture against a slew of young men he lured to his residence via Facebook over unfounded suspicion they are gay.
Though the army could not be reached for a comment, a source said the institution is preparing a statement dissociating itself from the suspect and his cruelty.
Claiming to have received a “revelation from God to get rid of all gays in Liberia, especially Monrovia,” the army personnel has been catfishing men on the internet via the account of mutual friends—all victims of his barbarity—into visiting him at his Palm Wine Station residence.
And there, they met a fate far worse at the hands of Cole and accomplices who believed they were acting at the behest of God.
In a chat with journalRAGE, Cole said his proselytization—which included severe and unmerciful beating under the guise of cleansing the spirit, seizing of clothes, telephones, and other valuables, and later being thrown on the roadside wearing rags and left to wander with a warning to “go home and sin no more”—has delivered 27 men. But survivors feared the number could be more.
LGBTI persons continue to come under threats and record instances of assault, harassment, and hate speech, according to the 2019 U.S. State Department Human Rights report on Liberia. Last November, a group of people celebrating at a party in Sinkor were attacked and brutalized by community dwellers over unfounded suspicion it was a gay wedding.
Liberian law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults. Article 14.74, 14.79, and 50.7 [of the Penal Code of 1976] consider voluntary sodomy as a first-degree misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to one-year imprisonment.
And though there has been no publicized case in recent years, harassment and discrimination abound.
Identifying as gay is not illegal in the country. However, it could lead to unprovoked physical violence in a country still living in denial over the existence of its LGBT population and acknowledging their rights which encompass the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)—a document which Liberia is an original signatory to.
Open Arms GB, an underground LGBT organization, said news of Cole’s capture is welcoming. “We are glad that this criminal has been apprehended by the Police,” the organization said in a statement released.
“We hope this case will teach others like Cheeseman Cole out there that no matter how much different you think someone is, you have no right to assault, mob or take away his/her life. Cole must face justice for his inhumane and criminal act.”
More Victims Appear
The news of Cheeseman Cole’s arrest spread like a wildfire in Liberia’s underground LGBT community, prompting seven of the victims to show up at the Police headquarters and testify as witnesses and survivors of his violent hate crimes.
Jesse Johnson (named changed) said he underwent severe torture at his hands. “He pointed a pistol to my head and said he’s going to kill me. And then, later on, he said he felt sorry for me,” Jones said.
Displaying his bruised wrists, ankles, and feet, Jones said he was treated far worse than a criminal and a prisoner of war. “He knocked me off my feet, tied my hands, and dragged me to the kitchen.”
For Gbada Flomo, he termed Cole as a monster. “What he did, no normal person can behave like that. He beat my back with wire, beat under my feet, and tied my ankle.”
Explaining further, he said the suspect placed his combat to his head which muffled his screams for help. “I couldn’t breathe when he put the combat to my face to stop me from shouting. I fainted.”
Missing Catholic Laity
Though Cole may have been caught, the whereabouts of Catholic laity, Dominic Gardour, remains a mystery.
Gardour had been training in Nairobi to be a Marist Brother and had returned to Liberia in preparation for an assignment in Ghana.
But according to Peter Jones (name changed), one of the survivors, he recalled the suspect chatting with Dominic over a fortnight ago while in captive.
Jones, who said he was lucky to be unharmed by the suspect, said Gardour was told to come at Cole’s residence.
While the Police are still connecting the dots, family sources told journalRAGE that Dominic’s last calls, before his disappearance, were to a contact saved as “AFL (Armed Forces of Liberia) Cole”, according to call logs obtained.
The GPS coordinates of the cell towers, they added, placed the location of the victim’s call around the Roberts International Airport, a stone throw from Cole’s residence.
The mystery of the two missing men lies in the probing by the Police of a man claiming to be acting on a revelation sent to him through God. Investigation continues.
journalRAGE is dedicated to the exclusive coverage of Liberia’s LGBT community