There is evidence to suggest that Monday’s breakout from the lockups at the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court Complex – which resulted in one escapee being shot dead – was planned after prisoners realized that the metal bars and mesh on a ventilation window were not properly secured.
Two other escapees have been recaptured while one remains at large.
The absence of ranks who had gone to shelter from rain was also a contributing factor to the breakout which has raised security concerns as well as questions about the quality of materials that were used in the multimillion dollar rehabilitation of the court’s infrastructure. The project took more than two years to be completed.
Stabroek News was reliably informed yesterday that several weeks ago prisoners weakened the bars by pulling on them with their shirts. Based on what this newspaper was told, thin lengths of metal rods were used to make the horizontal bars on the ventilation window and these may not have been secured properly into the concrete. It was explained that the constant pulling on the bars weakened them making it very easy for them to be removed. The mesh that was used over the bars, persons at the court opined, was inadequate as what was needed was metal grill work similar to what was placed over the other windows on the building.
As the police began an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the escape, a third prisoner was pulled out from beneath a bed by ranks early yesterday morning.
Police said in a press release that around 0115 hours, armed robbery accused Randolph Marks was recaptured by the police in a house at Freeman Street, East La Penitence, Georgetown. The police said that they are continuing their efforts to recapture the remaining escapee, Keron Cummings of Sophia. Cummings is also an armed robbery accused.
Murder accused Vickram Persaud, called ‘Lil John’, 28, of Doctor Dam, La Grange, West Bank Demerara, was fatally shot during “an armed confrontation” with the police at about 7.20 pm while the fourth escapee, murder accused Steve Bacchus, was recaptured in nearby Hadfield Street shortly after fleeing the Avenue of the Republic compound.
Crime Chief Leslie James told Stabroek News last evening that the investigation may lead to disciplinary action against some of the ranks who were in the compound when the escape occurred.
Asked how it was that the quartet managed to escape from that holding area, he said “I don’t want to insinuate anything because I have not gone there physically”. He said that the court was recently renovated and “these men were there. They somehow caused the grill work to be removed. I am not sure whether the grill work was weak… but somehow they were able to remove that and make good their escape”.
Questioned about the ranks who were supposed to be watching over them, he responded that there is an investigation going on to determine any complicity of those ranks and whether or not there was any level of negligence resulting from this escape. “I am sure we will see results in some level of disciplinary action being taken against persons”, he told Stabroek News.
Meanwhile when this newspaper visited the court compound yesterday there were at least a dozen police officers standing about. What was noticeable was that there was no rank guarding the back of the lockups where the ventilation window is situated; most of them where standing at the side or sitting on benches located there. If one stands on the stairway, one can see directly into the lockups.
One woman recalled seeing two ranks running through a small passageway located behind the court. She said that she later learnt that prisoners had escaped through a ventilation window and escaped via a bushy alleyway which led to Brickdam. The woman expressed certainty that the escape was planned as according to her the quartet chose to run towards Brickdam instead of Croal Street. The woman expressed belief that Bacchus was not a part of the break-out plan but rather saw an opportunity to secure freedom after the other three would have fled. She said that usually there would be two ranks sitting on a table at the back of the lockups but this was not the case on Monday as the rain was falling.
It would appear as though during the escape at least one person was injured as what appeared to be blood was left smeared beneath the ventilation window.
The quartet would not have had much of an audience as the building behind the court no longer houses courts and hardly has many people there. “There wouldn’t have been plenty people around plus the rain was falling”, the source said adding that the bush in the alleyway would have also provided cover for the fleeing men. The building at the back of the court houses several law offices.
According to a man, he saw when Persaud entered a motor car which speed off, an indication that the escape was planned. It is unclear though how the man managed to make it all the way to West Coast Berbice since the police set up multiple road blocks in the city and outskirts following the breakout.
Once source at the court told Stabroek News that the breakout could have ended badly. The source questioned what could have happened if the acquiring of weapons was part of the escape plan. “This could have been a disaster. What if one of them had a gun and just open fire on everybody in here”, the source said.
It was noted that no improvements were made to the lockups area of the court. “All they did was to add on a few courts and put in AC…that is all. No emphasis was placed on strengthening security”, the source added.
It was noted that the fencing at the back of the court leaves a lot to be desired as it is of an inferior quality and it is not a suitable fencing option for the complex. Based on Stabroek
News’ observation the fence is made of a chain link material with horizontal lengths of barbed wire at the top.
The source said that anyone can jump over the fence with ease. “All you gotta do is use the holes to put your foot in and when you reach the top you either put your hand on the post and swing yuh foot ova or put a shirt and climb over”, the source said adding that there are other types of barb wiring that could have been used.
“Millions of dollars was spent to fix up this place but it aint fix. It’s just like the old court with AC added. There was never any breakout before now. It was all a waste of money. No proper security and the place always smelly”, the source stressed, adding that this incident needs to be a wakeup call not only for the police but the persons in charge of the court.
The source questioned whether security checks are made prior to the arrival of prisoners to ensure that there are no illegal items hidden anywhere or places for them to escape easily.
Asked about the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in place for the security of prisoners, the Crime Chief while explaining that there will always be the need to be on high alert said that there are guidelines that have to be followed.
He told Stabroek News that when persons are leaving the prison to go to court under escort, the police are to ensure among other things that they are not in possession of anything illicit.
The issue of the holding area, he said, is even more serious. He said that it is here that you not only have the remand prisoners but those coming from different stations.
He made the point too that as part of the SOPs all food given to prisoners must be searched, “must be checked to determine whether any foreign substance any foreign instrument is in it because in the past we have had reports of things being inserted in the food …”, he said adding that regular checks are to be made.
“If we find a situation where there is a breakdown, an investigation can be mounted and those … not compliant with those SOPs can be made to answer questions”, he stressed.
One security source made the point that the design of the lockups is riddled with defects and he questioned whether or not the police were allowed to raise any observation in this regard. “Where that lockups is is a blind spot…they have to change the design, the whole set up”, the source said.
According to the source who is knowledgeable about police operations and security related matters, one has to understand that the lockups is not a prison but rather a temporary holding facility. He said that in this regard the focus is not only on security but also sanitary conditions.
According to the source, with regards to the security aspect one ought to be able to see into every corner of the lockups. “Had the police been able to see in, they would have spotted these men going through the window”. The source made the point that as part of the rehabilitation, there should have been at least two lockups built; one for the persons charged with serious offences and the other for persons facing minor charges. “I don’t understand why you would want to have everybody crammed into a small lockups”, the source said.
The guard hut on the northern side of the building, the source said, is badly placed. According to the source, the wiser thing to do would have been to put it to the back of the northern side of the compound so that the guard would have a view of the back of the building and the lockups.
“The work on this building is poor. It seems, they have failed to consult with the relevant authorities including the police”, the source said adding that the best security feature noticed is the narrow corridors. “The corridors are narrow and enclosed which is good”, the source said.
Asked about the quality of ranks who are sent to provide security at the court, the source said that should be of concern as it appears as it is the ranks who are just out of training school who are placed there. He expressed the view that the more experienced ranks should be tasked with security. “You have to get people dedicated to security…you can’t have ranks there doing several duties”, it was pointed out
“There are a series of lapses that are occurring repeatedly and they need to be fixed”, the source said
While Stabroek News was there, the smell of sewage laced the air. This newspaper was told that the overflowing of sewage was a regular occurrence especially when it rains. In the past this newspaper has published photographs of lawyers and members of the public jumping the overflowing sewage.