New allegations in Colwyn Harding case demand an independent inquiry – GHRA

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) has said that the recent revelations involving two young women implicate a wider range of agencies and individuals in alleged irregularities and brutality in the Colwyn Harding case than originally thought and warrant an independent inquiry.

“Taken as a whole, the cascade of complaints and unanswered questions raised by this saga increases the urgency of an independent investigation,” the group said in a press release. Tiffany Edwards and Teneisha Evans, originally charged in mid-November along with Colwyn Harding, appeared in the Providence Magistrate’s Court on November 18 on charges of   assaulting a peace officer and disorderly behaviour. Harding and Edwards could not raise their bail and were remanded to prison.

Evans remains in the New Amsterdam Women’s prison serving a two-year sentence imposed on December 3rd, reportedly for stealing and selling property from an aunt in order to raise bail for Harding, her boyfriend. The original charges are set to be heard in February at the Providence Court.

In addition to the disorderly behaviour and assault charges, Edwards was charged with two additional assault charges and granted bail on the four charges amounting to $110,000. She was bailed from the New Amsterdam Women’s Prison two days ago. According to the GHRA, a number of neighbourhood policing group members were allegedly involved in the original group led by a ‘constable’ that raided the two homes in the early hours of November 15. Both women, in statements made to their lawyer and to others, allege some form of sexual assault took place on Harding.

Edwards has also alleged that she suffered a miscarriage as a result of being kicked in the stomach by the constable in the Timehri prison.

The fact that she was kept in La Penitence lock-up for weeks is consistent with police behaviour when they want to conceal injuries to a detainee (or in her case an alleged miscarriage) before transferring them to prison, the GHRA said, adding that the normal routine would have been for her to be sent to the New Amsterdam Prison after her appearance in the magistrate’s court. Evans also claimed that the magistrate at the Providence court dismissed their efforts to complain about the brutal treatment telling the accused that they should raise the matter in court at their next appearance in February.

The GHRA asserts that the list of issues arising from the various allegations warrant an independent investigation. The group also said that it has never considered the Office of Professional Responsibility or the Police Complaints Authority to be independent bodies. The human rights body believes that the issues which should be examined include police conducting searches without a warrant; the detention without cause of men, women and minors; the arrest of females by male police officers, especially given the time of arrest; the use of excessive force by police against men, women and minors; members of neighbourhood policing group as accessories to sexual assault; establishing the status and rank of the person referred to as the constable; the inclusion of civilians in search parties; the alleged sodomy/sexual assault on Harding and threats of violence.

The group also said the detention of minors at night; brutality against minors in the police station; the laying of false charges to cover-up police brutality; the failure to provide or referral for proper medical attention from the La Penitence Women’s Lock-up/Timehri; the detention in La Penitence lock-up without cause; the abuses (physical/verbal) by either male or female police officers at Timehri; the failure of the magistrate at the Providence court to address complaints of police brutality; a review to establish whether the admissions, examination and treatment procedures at the Camp Street and New Amsterdam prisons were deficient in any way; the ground under which Harding was released from hospital custody; were they the result of bail payment or from a court order citing medical grounds.

According to the GHRA, should an independent investigation find any of the said allegations to be substantially true, it would indicate that the decay in the Guyana Police Force has become even more widespread and toxic than feared. This would then require an objective assessment of why the many measures put in place over the past decade to modernise and professionalise the police force in terms of financial resources, equipment and putting more officers before the courts are having so little impact.

“Neither preventative nor punitive measures have produced acceptable results. Procedures for selection of candidates for top posts in the GPF, which clearly insulate them from political interference, are urgently needed,” the group said.

A particularly disturbing feature of this saga, easily overlooked amid the slew of allegations, is the ages of the persons involved. Apart from Harding, all those detained are borderline adults and two are children.

At an early stage reference was made to a ‘17-year old’ having made a statement to his lawyer. Was he charged independently and for what offence? The GHRA asserts that the concept of juvenile justice in Guyana has eroded to the point of being obsolete – a fact reflected institutionally in the relegation of the Probation Service to the margins of the Ministry of Human Services.

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