The police force yesterday faced new accusations of covering up to protect its own after the apparent bungling of its case against two ranks charged with killing a bystander during a wild pursuit in the city in 2012.
Policemen Sheldon Williams and Errol Williams, who were charged with the man-slaughter after the fatal shooting of civilian Dameon Belgrave outside the White Castle Fish Shop in 2012, were freed last Thursday after a magistrate upheld no case submissions made by their counsel.
The two accused were freed by Magistrate Ann McLennan after the ballistics evidence given by Police Ballistic Expert Detective Sergeant Eon Jackson disclosed that a warhead discovered next at the scene next to Belgrave’s body revealed that it did not come from either of their guns, but from a third officer who was not charged. Stabroek News understands that the third officer, who was identified as “Constable Fraser,” was also one of the witnesses during the preliminary inquiry into the charge.
The dismissal of the charge has come amid intense scrutiny of the police’s handling of investigations of serving members, including a rank’s alleged rape of detainee Colwyn Harding and a cadet officer’s shooting of a 15-year-old picked up for questioning. No charges have been filed in either case.
It also follows other high-profile cases where charges have been dismissed because of poor police prosecution or evidence presentation despite being apparently clear-cut. These instances have led to calls for the police not to be investigating their own and for the prosecution of these cases to be removed from the police force entirely.
Belgrave, 21, of Middle Street, Pouderoyen, West Bank Demerara, who would have celebrated his 22nd birthday the day after he was killed, had been at the White Castle Fish Shop having a ‘pre-birthday’ drink with his friends, when a police patrol passed in pursuit of a car. Shots were then fired and Belgrave was hit. The police then took the injured man to the Georgetown Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Belgrave sustained one gunshot wound under his left arm in the region of his heart.
Belgrave’s family yesterday accused the police of “covering up” for the real shooter.
Belgrave’s mother, Donna Sulker, said yesterday that she had been told during the preliminary inquiry that the third police officer could not have been charged since “weapon did not do the shooting, but now they are saying that his weapon do the shooting. This is a whole cover up,” the woman said. Sulker also disclosed that the prosecutor for the case was also changed.
Belgrave’s father also told this newspaper yesterday that his main concern was that “police prosecuting police is a no-go.” He added too that all the evidence pointed to the third officer and that it was well known “what it was to bring the third guy to justice.”
An emotional Sulker also said that she realised that “justice is not there regardless of what the former Commissioner who came to my house told me. I realise that was just a bluff.”
At the time he was charged, Sheldon Williams, of Lot 33 Kildonan Village, Corentyne, Berbice had been a serving member of the Guyana Police Force for 16 years. Errol Williams, of Lot 100 Glasgow Village, East Bank Berbice had been a serving member of the force for over 15 years.
‘Bound to fail’
Reacting to the dismissal of the charge, the AFC yesterday demanded that an independent investigation be conducted, while accusing the police of turning the shooting into a circus.
“How is it possible that the Guyana Police Force, who was in possession of its own ballistic report, not prosecute the Police Officer who shot and killed the innocent Dameon Belgrave?” the party asked in a statement read at the press conference.
“How could the Guyana Police Force subject the mother, relatives and friends of Dameon Belgrave to the pretence of a prosecution they must have known was bound to fail? How could the Guyana Police Force prosecute two of their own Officers for a crime they were aware they could not have committed?”
Contacted yesterday, Liz Rahaman, Communica-tions Officer for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), told this newspaper that charges were not instituted against the third officer at the time because of all of the available evidence in the police file.
The AFC yesterday demanded an “immediate independent investigation” seeking to determine the basis for the prosecution of the two policemen when there was information that they were not the shooters, the reason the shooter was not apprehended and charged and how the police force determines “who must be prosecuted for criminal offences and whether the persons charged with this responsibility are legally trained and qualified to make determinations of the issue of the institution and prosecution of charges.”
Linking the “travesty” with the recent shooting of 15-year-old Alex Griffith, the party said there was very little confidence that justice will be served in the latter.
“How can the Guyana Police Force ever hope to win the confidence of the people when such acts of extra judicial killings and shootings go unpunished? The list of complaints against the Police Force for using unnecessary force is growing and the Home Affairs Minister is clearly unable to rein in ‘rogue officers’ who seem intent on behaving like villains with a badge,” it said, while questioning the government’s response to the situation. “While we wait on the government to take action, our young people continue to die or be maimed by the very people who have taken a sworn oath to protect them,” it added.
Meanwhile, in an invited comment, Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority retired Justice Cecil Kennard told Stabroek News that while he was not aware of the men being discharged, the DPP can have the case reopened. “The DPP can request a copy of the deposition and if she feels that the Magistrate was wrong the case can be reopened. So it is not all lost… for the benefit of the relatives, it is not all lost,” he said.