The cops at the centre of a shocking baton rape allegation have denied committing the act, according to Police Commissioner Leroy Brumell.
The alleged November 2013 assault on Colwyn Harding has also raised burning questions as to why the police were only this week stepping up the probe into allegations against ranks at the Timehri Police Station.
While senior police officials, including Brumell, say that they only became aware of the severity of the allegation made by Harding last Thursday, his mother yesterday maintained that she told Brumell, Divisional Commander George Vyphuis and another senior officer since mid-December
that her son claimed he had been sodomised with a baton.
Brumell, who yesterday engaged the media for the first time on the case, said that the ranks implicated by Harding have all denied the allegation. The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), according to Brumell, should complete the investigations by Tuesday of next week.
So far, about six to eight ranks, the most senior of whom is an Assistant Superintendent of Police, have been removed from the Timehri Police Station, where Harding had been taken after the alleged assault took place. One of them, the constable said to be the one who pushed a condom-covered wooden baton into Harding’s anus, remains under close arrest. The others have been transferred to various police stations within ‘A’ Division. The transfers occurred between Wednesday and yesterday.
Accompanying Brumell at the press conference held in the Commissioner’s conference room, Eve Leary were Vyphuis, Crime Chief Seelall Persaud, Assistant Commissioner in charge of Operations David Ramnarine, Assistant Commissioner in charge of Administration Balram Persaud and police public relations officer Ivelaw Whittaker.
“I just want to clear it and to say it and I am saying it again: at no time did the mother ever mention to me that a baton was used … on her son, no time. I only learnt this from a recording,” Vyphuis stressed, after facing questioning as to what happened in the investigation between when he was first told about it in December and when it was first reported in the press last Friday.
He said that Harding’s mother told him that her son was assaulted and he immediately made contact with the officer-in-charge of the subdivision where the Timehri Police Station falls (Vanderhyden). At the time of the alleged assault, Vanderhyden had not been posted at Timehri but rather at another location to fill a void which had been created as a result of persons going on leave. The officer who was in charge of the station during the time that Harding sustained his injuries is now at the Diamond Police Station.
“During the process of the investigation, he indicated to me that it was a complaint against a rank,” he said.
According to the Commander, the matter was immediately moved from Timehri to the complaints section at Brickdam. He said that a statement was taken from the man’s mother.
According to Vyphuis, Harding was “unable to communicate…he was unable to speak so the communication in terms of getting that statement was not forthcoming.” He said it was after he received a call from a media operative that he asked the woman to visit him immediately. The woman, based on what he said, visited his office last Thursday.
“When she came she had a recording on a cell phone and that recording is where the son speak and he say all that happened to him. Then is when he mentioned and then is when I got the knowledge that a baton was allegedly used with a condom on it,” he said. “I knew nothing before then,” he added.
Vyphuis said that he had not received a brief on the incident since the matter was moved to Brickdam and it was only after the mother’s visit that he got a clear picture about what allegedly transpired. He said that after seeing the recording, he immediately made contact with police officer Errol Watts, who heads the complaints section, and told him to speed up the investigation which would have already started.
Brumell told reporters that the text message he had received from a woman, later identified as Harding’s mother, Sharon, complained of an assault. He said he was unable to ascertain the exact date that he received the text but it came probably close to the second week in December last year. He said that it was only sometime last week that he heard that a baton was used. Asked if he knew the person who texted him, Brumell responded he might.
However, when contacted Sharon strongly denied the officers’ claim that she did not inform them about the nature of the assault. When contacted shortly after the press conference had ended, the woman said that she sent the text on Friday, December 13 and in it she stated that she was going to make contact with the media as her son was buggered by the police. Asked what prompted her to send the text, she said that her son called her from Timehri and told her that the police were beating him and trying to bugger him.
Harding had been arrested on November 15 last, when the assault allegedly occurred and made a court appearance on November 19. However, he was taken to the Camp Street prison since he was unable to post his bail and it was while there that he began to feel unwell and was taken to the hospital on December 13 last.
The woman said that after she saw her son’s condition, she became angry and when she got home she sent the text message to the commissioner. Sharon said that she is no longer in possession of the text but was adamant that she told the commissioner that her son had been buggered.
She said minutes after the text was sent, Vyphuis called her and she related to him that her son was buggered with a baton. Afterward, Vanderhyden made contact with her and she said she also told him about the nature of the assault.
Sharon insisted that at no time did she just say that her son was assaulted but rather she had indicated exactly what had been done to him.
Asked what has so far been done by the OPR with respect to the investigation, Brumell said that a number of statements from persons were obtained. “I must also state clearly that the ranks have denied the allegation of using the baton in the rectum as is mentioned,” he said, before adding that police investigators visited the Georgetown Prisons, where Harding had been remanded prior to his hospitalisation. The commissioner said that they have received information that he made a report that he had been assaulted by the police with a baton but “he never stated that the police used a baton to the rectum with a condom.” Brumell told the media that his ranks would also have to go to the hospital to get some information from the doctor as well as the court as it relates to whether he would have said anything about the alleged assault when he appeared before the magistrate at his arraignment.
He could not say if the police have so far taken a statement from Harding in relation to the sodomy allegation but noted that it would have to happen. Brumell said too that the police are working to get Harding’s medical records, which would include, among other things, when he was admitted to the hospital.
Asked about reports of an alleged recording of the assault, Brumell said that the investigation is wide and “we may cover all of that.” When asked about the transfer of ranks and whether more drastic measures should have been taken, he said that “a man is innocent until proven guilty and if we get a report or complaint about somebody, we have to investigate it or it will be thrown out. We have to investigate. We have to send for advice.”
Persaud, in responding to a question about the investigation process, said that it is not lengthy and that charges are laid based on the evidence collected. He assured that the same investigation process applies to the public and members of the force.
Questions have been raised as to why the transferred ranks were not placed under close arrest. In response, Persaud noted that the force is an organisation of public trust and as such when an allegation arises against a rank the first thing is to get him/her out of the community so as to not destroy the trust. He added that if a rank is accused of unprofessional behaviour, they need to be closer to senior ranks. He said that the transfer occurs because the matter is being investigated.
Persaud told reporters that it seemed to him that in this matter there were some deficiencies in the police’s practices. He said the first deficiency occurred when the statement was taken from the mother. The rank, once understanding the extent of the assault, should have reported it to his superiors, he noted. “If in that statement the mother outlines the same thing we are reading in the news… then it should have been reported immediately to the commander,” he added. He said also that in the joint services if something like this happens, the prison service would called someone in the force and notify them that there is a complaint. He said that the prison service is not obligated to do so but that has been the practice.