Former police commissioner Winston Felix has criticised the police force’s handling of the shooting of 15-year-old Alex Griffith by a serving lawman and he says the investigation should have been concluded in no more than one week.
“Enough time has been given to the police to sort out the matter since it’s a localised matter involving just the members of the force, the child, his mother and the doctor. Thus, I see no reason for a week to pass and the matter not be concluded and positive action not taken,” Felix, who is A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, said yesterday at a press briefing to address the recent and wayward shootings by members of the Guyana Police Force (GPF).
Addressing reporters at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, Felix noted that the shooting of Griffith under what he called “questionable circumstances” occurred almost two weeks ago and there has been no word from either the government or the hierarchy of GPF.
Griffith was shot by a cadet officer after being picked up from his home by a group of policemen for questioning about the robbery of a relative of the cadet officer. He has alleged that the officer was playing Russian roulette with him at the time he was shot.
Crime Chief Leslie James yesterday told Stabroek News that the investigation will be concluded shortly and whatever laws were broken will be dealt with. He reiterated that the police force had to do a thorough investigation before moving forward.
Marcel Griffith, the teen’s mother said she was reliably informed by her attorney that the police officer responsible for the shooting will appear at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts on Friday. She, however, added that she was disappointed to have not heard anything from Acting Police commissioner Seelall Persaud and not being able to meet him.
Felix said the teen should have never been arrested since there was no reason for the police to do so. He said the laws do not state that someone should be arrested for questioning, while also pointing out that the Juvenile Offenders Act provides that a juvenile has to be questioned in the presence of a parent or guardian or someone who is of the same sex of the child.
He added that the Alex Griffith matter is too public to be swept away and the force needs to come forward and publicly admit it was wrong. He said there is a strict code that says when police officers are allowed to fire. He noted that an officer has to be attacked and unable to defend him/herself before he/she is allowed to fire.
Felix said the shooting of Griffith “should never have happened” and noted that APNU had been consistently urging the force to train its members.
He pointed to past shootings by police, including the shooting of APNU member James Bond and retired Brigadier General Edward Collins during a peaceful demonstration along Brickdam.
“They were walking, there was no need to shoot,” Felix said.
“We also had the shooting of 17-year-old Shaquille Grant in September 2012, in Agricola and also the shooting of Damien Belgrave, 21, who was enjoying his birthday at the White Castle Fish Shop on Hadfield Street when he was shot by the police as they chased behind a few men through the crowd and opened fire. How can the police shoot into a place that is crowded every weekend?” he questioned.
“Should a member of GPF be playing Russian roulette? It is offensive to the Police Discipline Act for a trained man to by playing Russian roulette with a human life,” Felix exclaimed and added that that situations such as these show gross irresponsibility in the force.
Felix warned that the force’s response to cases like the shooting of Alex Griffith could jeopardise ongoing efforts at forging closer ties with the communities, such as the Impact Albouystown Project. “I think the police [force] has missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate its willingness to work with the public,” he said.
Felix recalled that when Belgrave was shot, former police commissioner Leroy Brumell visited the relatives on the West Bank Demerara and he said he felt the visit came over as a great public relations effort. In this light, he urged that the police reconsider public relations in the quest to reform the force.