Reports that four prison officers assaulted 23-year-old alleged baton-rape victim Colwyn Harding surfaced yesterday, triggering a fresh wave of protests while a witness to the alleged beating her suffered at the Timehri Police Station has come forward.
Attempts to contact acting Director of Prisons Welton Trotz for a comment on the assault allegedly committed by prison officers at the Georgetown Public Hospital, where Harding is hospitalized, were futile.
Yesterday midday Harding was still under police guard and shackled by his foot to his bed. He was giving statements to the police about the alleged rape. His family and friends surrounded him. When Stabroek News returned last night he was no longer shackled, but he was giving statements again, this time in the presence of his lawyers.
Speaking to Stabroek News last night, Joan Cambridge said that she witnessed the assault on Thursday night. “Well, we were holding a vigil at Sharon Harding’s home when some good soul at the hospital called Sharon and told her that something was happening at the hospital and that she should hurry and come,” Cambridge related.
She said she was one of several people who jumped into two cars and rushed to the Georgetown Public Hospital. Cambridge said she was in the first car. “So I reached first before Sharon and what I saw shocked me.”
She said she saw a number of prison officers approach Harding’s room at the hospital but were told to wait by nurses because they were doing a procedure. “But the officers didn’t care they pushed past they nurses and ordered them out of the room and one of the nurses was pushed aside,” she said. Cambridge said she became worried and peeped into the room where she saw the men wringing Harding’s hand.
“They wring his hands and then I see him raise up from the bed and started to fight back but they pushed him down and wring his hands and slapped him. That’s when I screamed and yelled ‘I saw what you did! I saw what you did!’ and by that time Sharon came and I told her what they did and they run out of the room and run away,” she related.
Cambridge said she was appalled at the attack on Harding.
Four other persons saw when the officers ran away, including Sharon Harding and Jackie Lamazon.
Sharon Harding said she was fearful that they would hurt her son and get away with it. “All I want is to move Colwyn out of this place. I don’t trust them not after last night [Thursday] when I saw them prison officers running out of his room. Look, if you watch clearly you could see the marks on his hands where they dig him,” she said, adding that when she rushed into her son’s room he was traumatised. “He told me that they tried to take away his phone but he wouldn’t let them because he wanted to call me. He wanted to call me to stop them; that they were hurting him. My son ain’t in a proper state and he isn’t safe here. I’m trying to get someone to guard his room all day ’cause I don’t want anything to happen to him.”
‘They gon’ get me’
Meanwhile, even as police ranks at the Timehri Police Station deny the allegation one of them sexually assaulted Harding with a baton, a witness who said that he was in the lockups when Harding was being beaten said Harding had told him that the policemen had sodomised him.
The man, Stephon Phillips, called ‘Muslim,’ has since given a written statement on the assault to Harding’s attorney, Nigel Hughes.
“…I opened the cell and assisted him to come into cell #2 where I was…
He told me that [name of policeman] tek a baton and push it up in he and [name of policeman] was right there along with other officers. I then told him to comply with the police them and don’t harass them,” he said in his statement.
Speaking to Stabroek News yesterday, the man said that since he gave the statement about the incident, he has been targeted by the police.
“I am fearful for my life. I need protection. They came by me and then [name of policeman] called me last night [Thursday] saying that he don’t want me to produce any statement on what happened that night. They just come by me again and I hear them saying that they gon get me before the night out,” the man said.
Even though he is fearful, the man said, he will keep fighting for justice for Harding.
According to Phillips’ statement, “On the 15th day of November, 2013 I saw about four police officers dragging Colwyn Harding also known as Obamma or Bamma from the reception area to the cells. They were chucking him up and pushing him towards the cells. He was screaming and hollering for murder murder.”
He said that while Harding was not assaulted by the police officers the following day, on November 17, the men once again beat Harding and his son. “[Name of policeman] had a baton in his hands and [named policeman] had a baton in his hands… I then heard my son hollering as well as the other person. I shouted out yall don’t beat me son…I saw [named policeman] go into the cell as well when I heard the young boys screaming. They spent about 10 minutes beating the boys then left and went out of the lockups,” he stated.
Phillips stated that he was also beaten by the ranks. “About one hour after [named policeman] came and asked me what you doing out of the cell. I told him why I must go in the cell while a man in there dying from police brutalization and my son also was brutalized by police. They beat me with the baton,” he said.
Protesting in front of Police Headquarters Eve Leary yesterday, representatives from the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and Red Thread Organisation demonstrators were outraged at what they called “a grievous violation of human rights”.
“On top of all the grievance that he has already suffered last night they assault him again! Why? Why is Colwyn facing continual abuse at the hands of the police and those that are supposed to protect him? This is an act of intimidation,” Joel Simpson of SASOD said.
At a press conference yesterday, Leader of A Partnership for National Unity David Granger called for an independent inquiry into Harding’s alleged rape. “This has gone beyond Police Complaints Authority and Office of Professional Responsibility. This is a serious situation which requires an independent judicial inquiry,” he said.
Granger chided the Police ‘A’ Division, stating that some amount of mischief took place. “We are convinced that there has been some gross negligence on the part of A Division,” he said, adding that transferring the two other policemen, who were fingered involved in the alleged assault and rape to another police station was an “old trick.”
“It is an old trick to create mischief in another region so instead of suspending them or putting them before the court they are transferred,” he stated, while emphasizing the coalition’s disapproval with the action. “This is not the first time and unless we put an end to it there will be a recurrence.”
He charged that the answers provided by Health Minister Dr Bheri Ramsaran on Thursday at the sitting of the National Assembly were variant with reality, noting that doctors are not trained in legal works and interrogation. “We do not accept the allegation that it was incarcerated hernia. We feel that there has been mischief and we intend to explore every possible legal means to determine who is responsible and to bring that person to justice,” he said, adding that the remarks of the Health Minister were incredible.
Harding has alleged that he was raped with a baton in November by a police constable. He had told Stabroek News that he was repeatedly beaten and tossed into a cell with human faeces. During the alleged rape, Harding had said that the police had forced a pair of panties into his mouth to stifle his screams.
In October 2009 at the Leonora Police Station a teenage boy’s genitals were set on fire shortly after he was arrested in relation to a murder investigation.