Alarmed over recurring reports of unlawful killings by members of the police force, main opposition coalition APNU yesterday called for an independent judicial inquiry into all such cases over the past eight years.
“APNU iterates its demand that an independent judicial inquiry be conducted into all reports of killings by the Guyana Police Force,” coalition leader David Granger told a news conference yesterday, while saying there is abundant evidence to justify the call.
The inquiry period identified by the coalition coincides with Clement Rohee’s stewardship of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Granger accused recently-appointed Commis-sioner of Police (acting) Seelall Persaud of not paying attention to the internal problems inside the police force and he argued that this was the reason the problem persists.
“Seelall Persaud seems to be suffering from a case of newness and Rohee, who has been the longest serving Minister… I think he is suffering from a case of tiredness,” Granger opined.
He noted that the police force itself, responding to a previous APNU statement, admitted that between the 1st of January, 1997 and the 18th of October, 2012, its officers had killed 255 persons. The United States Department of State in its Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2013, he added, stated that the Police Complaints Authority reported 14 unlawful killings by the police for 2012. “The pattern persists. There continue to be numerous confirmed reports of police killings,” he said.
He identified the cases of Shawn Nidal Watkins, 42, who was shot dead by the police officer in May 2012; Shaquille Grant, 17, who was shot dead by the police in September 2012; Dameon Belgrave, 21, who was shot dead by the police in October 2012; Tony Ogle, 46, Leon Gittens, 24 and Quincy Alexander, 33, who were shot dead by the police in February 2013; Dellon Hawker, who was shot dead by the police in October 2013; Mark Anthony Joseph, 19; Jermaine Canterbury, 21, who were shot dead on the spot and Mario Gouveia, 19, who died of his injuries, all after being shot by the police in October 2013; Paul Bascom, 26 and Alberto Grant, 28, who were shot dead by the police in December 2013; and Joel Ross, who was shot dead by the police in April 2014.
Former Police Commissioner and current APNU MP Winston Felix, who accompanied Granger, said the force has gone astray in the absence of proper leadership, while saying discipline and training are key to addressing the situation.
Of recent, the police force has come under sharp criticism for its handling of cases. Just last week two police officers were discharged at the Magistrates’ Court for the October 2012 killing of Dameon Belgrave after their lawyers argued that the fatal bullet came from the weapon of a third rank who was not charged in the unlawful killing.
Subsequently, the police in a statement on Thursday said that the force was being made a scapegoat as it had acted on the instructions of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Felix yesterday opined that based on his understanding, the investigations were that of the police. “On the night in question all those involved in the shooting should have been held, their firearms should have been taken from them and their firearms and bodies should have been examined,” he said.
“If you are going to go to court almost a year after and you are going to tell the court, ‘look these were not the two, this was the one’ what happened in the investigation? The investigation should have sifted that out and eliminated those who are not concerned in the shooting,” he said.
Felix also argued that “whatever is being thrown at the feet of the DPP starts with the police because the DPP has to review an investigation submitted in a file by the police. It is not that the DPP is making up everything…. The police must do a proper investigation and submit a file. I know what I am talking about, because files are not just prepared and submitted.”
“I will not take lightly to the fact that you would just throw blame at the DPP when the investigation starts with you,” he said.
He added that he also found it “strange” that the police said that they are being used as scapegoats. “Rather, it is the duty of the police to sit back and take a second look at all the killings taking place and chart a course forward because that is not the only one. Have we ever considered why Shaquille Grant was shot? Have we looked at the circumstances?” Felix questioned.
The MP posited that there also other issues in the matter that have not been brought to light. “I am seeing gaps in it. That sort of excuse is not good…you have to see what has gone wrong to make efforts to ensure that it does not happen again. Running to the public crying is not a proper response and that is what that release told me yesterday. The police crying that the case was dismissed,” he said.
Pointing to the case of 15-year-old Alex Griffith, who was shot in the mouth on April 30 by a police officer, Felix stated that this is a case of rank indiscipline. “…We see rank indiscipline in the Guyana Police Force. How do you explain a member of the police force under training uplifting a firearm, on whose authority?” Felix questioned.
Felix, who is the main opposition’s Shadow Home Affairs Minister, also highlighted the human rights abuse inherent in the case, “because you are being arrested in your house for committing no offense. That in itself, an arrest for no offense is an abuse of human rights.”
Commenting on the case of Colwyn Harding, who has accused a police constable of ramming a condom-covered baton up his anus and physically assaulting him last November, Felix posited that it is “penny wise and pound foolish” to apply means which would affect the outcome of the case. “You cannot tender a confession if it is obtained under threat,” he said.
Questioned on whether there is any immediate solution to the problem, Felix said that he does not see one. “I don’t know what the thinking at Police Headquarters is. There is and there are solutions. The first thing that must be tackled is police discipline…. Secondly there needs to be training,” he said.
APNU MP James Bond also echoed the sentiments shared by Felix. According to Bond, there seems to be no end to the extrajudicial killings under the current administration. “One thing that is for sure is that the police force lacks confidence. They lack the self-esteem necessary to protect and serve the people of this country,” he said. “By confidence I don’t mean bravado or being macho. By confidence I mean they are not equipped with the mental tools to properly execute their duties, hence their resort to their barbaric unconstitutional downright wicked matters of executing left right and center,” Bond asserted.
The MP added that there is also the strong need for a Coroner’s court as was alluded to by Granger recently. “There is a need for a Coroner’s court where incidents such as these will not be given second priority, but will be given the utmost priority and be executed with judicial haste. In many of these instances you find that there is some sloth in getting the Coroner’s Inquest together, which has to be performed by a Magistrate. What we need is a separate court as we have in terms of the Family Court,” he said.