-Rohee admits call, denies cover up
The testimony of Senior Superintendent Clifton Hicken, the former divisional commander responsible for Linden, has come under further scrutiny after phone records produced to the Linden Commission of Inquiry (COI) last week showed that he was in contact with Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee on the day the three Lindeners were fatally shot despite his denials that he had no contact with Rohee.
Rohee on Friday also acknowledged that he was in contact with Hicken on the evening of July 18 following the shootings.
Apart from determining who was responsible for the shootings, the COI is also inquiring into what, if any, general or specific instructions the minister may have given to the police force to maintain law and order in Linden immediately before, during and immediately after the events of July 18.
Under cross-examination on September 27, by attorney Nigel Hughes, Hicken denied having contact with Rohee, on July 18 while operating at Linden. Hughes had listed several numbers affiliated with Rohee, all of which Hicken said he was not familiar with. Hicken said several times that he was only in contact with acting Commis-sioner of Police Leroy Brumell, from whom he said he took orders.
Brumell had said under oath that telephone number 623-9908 belonged to Rohee, while 661-9490 was Hicken’s number.
The telephone companies, the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) and Digicel were subpoenaed and produced telephone records to the COI last week. The phone records confirmed that calls were made between numbers registered to Rohee and Hicken on July 18.
The records presented by GT&T show that six calls were exchanged between the numbers registered to Rohee and Hicken. Among the calls listed in the records was one that lasted six minutes, another that lasted three minutes and 11 seconds and one with duration of three minutes, the commissioners were told.
No cover up
Rohee, meantime, has acknowledged that he had spoken with Hicken after the shooting on July 18. The Government Information Agency (GINA) reported that during an interview with the National Communications Network (NCN) on Friday night, the minister stated, “Yes we did make contact, I did have a conversation with him; most of the conversation was after the shooting took place on the bridge.”
He said also said that, “If there was any contact before, well the records will show whether that was so or not but from my recollections most of the time when we spoke was after the incident took place so I don’t think there is need for any speculation to take place about whether the minister was in touch…I was in touch with him and we did speak so I would like to put that to rest lest there be any speculation or suspicion that somebody is trying to cover up anything.”
GINA said the minister also explained that he generally makes contact with persons below the level of the commissioner as it pertains to him carrying out his roles and responsibility as Home Affairs Minister. Brumell had told the commission that he was aware of instances where the minister would contact ranks below him.
“I think also a question was raised about me making contact with persons below the commissioner of police. I do make contact from time to time with ranks below the commissioner of police particularly at the commander level, assistant commissioner level. Very rarely I would speak to persons below the level of the divisional commander,” Rohee was quoted as saying.
“There are many times I would call the commissioner and he would not be available because of his responsibility and if he is not available then I would then go to the next level which is the commander of the division and if the commander of the division is not there then I would speak to the second. That’s the lowest I would go and I think all of this is a fulfilment of my responsibilities,” the minister also said.
A few days after the shootings, Rohee during a special programme on the Linden protests had said that prior to the July 18 incident, he had held discussions with senior officials and he was given the assurance that live rounds were not going to be used by the police in deterring the Linden protestors. He had also denied allegations that he was giving instructions to ranks at Linden via a radio system on what actions to take on the day of the shootings. He had explained there is no way that a handheld radio in Georgetown can connect onto the frequency of the radio network in the mining town, GINA had reported at the time.
Chief Executive Officer of Digicel Gregory Deane also produced records to the COI and he said that he was asked to provide records for 661-9490. He said he did not have information about who the number was registered to because he was not asked to provide that. While being questioned by Hughes, Deane said that he was asked for incoming and outgoing calls between 5.47 pm and 6.48 pm on July 18 for that number. Hughes said that he would be tendering a copy of a printout of the records and will go through them at a later date, since many numbers were listed.
The COI is mandated to inquire into and report on the circumstances surrounding the shooting to death of three Linden men, Allan Lewis, Ron Somerset, and Shemroy Bouyea and the injury of several others at the Mackenzie-Wismar Bridge on July 18, during a protest over the increase in electricity tariffs.
The COI began hearings on September 24 and testimony during the first week from the three senior police officers inclusive of Brumell, Hicken and Assistant Superintendent Patrick Todd, the officer-in-charge on the ground at the time have exposed inconsistencies between their accounts of events. Testimony by other police ranks last week has also raised further questions and placed the actions of Hicken under increased scrutiny.
Todd told the COI that he believed that if he and his riot unit had remained on standby at the Mackenzie-Wismar Bridge, the situation at Linden could have been better managed on July 18. Todd had said that he could not act independently on his personal expertise in crowd control, since he was required to follow the instructions of Hicken.
“If we were in the vicinity away from the crowd, after persons observed police presence, they wouldn’t have behaved in that manner,” Todd opined. “I think it was bad in judgment to have the unit locate themselves in the centre of the crowd. I think it would be better to remove away from the crowd and put on standby to observe,” he had said.
With a crucial question being who fired the fatal shots, it was also revealed that swabbing of hands for gunpowder residue was not done on some ranks at least. Todd said that his hand was not swabbed for gunpowder residue and that he could not recall whether any members of his unit had their hands swabbed for this purpose after the shooting.
Corporal Donald Harry, whose main duty is to issue and receive firearms and ammunition, also told the COI that the weapons used by the riot unit that was deployed to Linden on July 18 were not returned to the armoury until three days after the unit got back from Linden and four policemen had less ammunition than they had taken, but no explanation was given. Harry was asked whether it is customary that the arms be immediately lodged upon return and he responded in the affirmative. He was also asked whether the delay between the return of the ranks and the lodging of the weapons was unusual and he admitted that it was.
Meantime, Jermaine Tucker, a police photographer, told the inquiry that he had not seen protestors hurling missiles at police on July 18 and that there was a blackout after 6 pm during which he heard explosions.