Ruthless police practices could lead to dangerous situation – security expert

The continued brutality of citizens during routine investigations and a poor track record of successfully prosecuting cases have once again become the subject of public discussion, and according to security experts if not addressed quickly, a dangerous situation could develop where persons will not only have no respect for the law but will take matters into their own hands.

So far for this year, the police have come under heavy criticism in five instances – the Colwyn Harding baton sodomy allegation, the Dameon Belgrave shooting, the shooting of 15-year-old Alex Griffith, the sudden dismissal of the Kirpalani $17 million robbery case and the torturing of Junior Thorrington while in police custody. The last four cases came to light within the last five to six weeks.

A source who has a wealth of knowledge about security and police related issues told Stabroek News in a recent interview that “it is not by accident that ranks are doing what they are doing and are getting away with it”.

He said there is a “blue wall of silence”, an unwritten code which states that police would not snitch on each other. He said while one would expect that this would apply to ranks on patrol it seems as though it has been expanded to other areas, for example in instances of alleged police brutality and alleged criminal activities committed by ranks in the force.

He expressed the view that a lot of what is happening cannot happen without the knowledge or approval of ranks in high command.

It was explained that this sort of behaviour is the “culture of the organisation” and when one enters the force one either adapts to it or runs the risk of being penalised and “running afoul of the whole system.”

According to the source, it is not about doing what is right or wrong but rather “whether you do we thing.”

The source noted that in cases which are similar in nature, one can see clearly that there is a difference in approach and how the ranks implicated are treated. It was noted that once some matters become public, action is taken immediately, while in others that action is delayed. He questioned what message this sends to members of the public who are looking on and eagerly awaiting action.

The source noted that from past experience, it is clear that police are not really punished but are given a slap on the shoulder and transferred. He noted that often these same ranks continue to abuse their position and contribute to the destruction of whatever good is left of the force’s image.

“How is transferring stern punishment? What needs to be done is that we need to start sending these ranks home, if we are going to send a message. Don’t worry about the impact it may have on the number of ranks in the force. What needs to be concentrated on is weeding out the bad ones so that all those unemployed young people will come and join,” the source said while stressing that the whole issue of disciplining ranks is being handled badly.

“We have got to handle it as we see fit,” the source said. “If we continue to transfer ranks, when will it end? When will we see that this sort of disciplinary action is not working?”

The source stated that if ranks continue to act unprofessionally it must be an indication that something is wrong with the hierarchy of the force. “If you punish 20 ranks for something… you keep punishing ranks over and over for something and it is not working then you have to go upstairs because something is clearly wrong,” he added.

The source said that within the last two months too much has happened. He noted it is up to the public to put pressure on the administration to deal with what is happening in the police force.

“We are heading for a serious crisis…and something has gotta give soon,” the source said, adding that if one compared what is happening now with 10-15 years ago there is a clear difference. He said that this is not the same passive society that existed then but rather a society where people are frustrated at getting no justice. According to the source if the system does not function as it ought to then we might find ourselves in a situation of anarchy unless the citizens are satisfied that something will be done.

Colwyn Harding

In January Harding alleged that a police constable had pushed a condom covered baton up his rectum two months earlier. At the time of the alleged assault, the police had visited a location in Timehri to investigate an allegation of break and enter and larceny. Based on the accounts of Harding and other persons who were with him, while he was in custody at the Timehri Police Station he was beaten to the point where he blacked out on at least one occasion.

When Harding spoke to the media for the first time, he was a patient at the Georgetown Hospital with serious injury to his intestines. To this day he is unable to excrete waste from his body the proper way. He uses colostomy bags and is currently raising funds to cover his expenses for a final surgery which is to be done abroad.

After six months of investigation, Constables Devin Singh and Roslyn Tilbury-Douglas appeared before Chief Magistrate Priya Sewnarine-Beharry on June 3 charged with assaulting Harding sometime between November 1 and November 13, 2013 at the Timehri Police Station. Singh was placed on $200,000 bail while Tilbury-Douglas was placed on $100,000 bail.

While many have expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome, they have said it was expected due to the sloth and the disinterest the police initially showed. Although there was a report from a doctor which stated that there was evidence to suggest that a foreign object was pushed into Harding’s rectum, no charges related to that were laid. A second doctor from Jamaica had delivered a similar finding.

Court cases

The freeing of two policemen charged with shooting Dameon Belgrave outside the White Castle Fish Shop was a shocker especially since it was revealed that police allowed the real shooter to go free although they were in possession of information that incriminated him.

The two accused Sheldon Williams and Errol Williams were freed after their lawyers, George Thomas and Patrice Henry made no-case submissions which were upheld by Magistrate Ann McLennan last month.

The ballistics evidence given by police expert Detective Sergeant Eon Jackson disclosed that a warhead discovered at the scene next to Belgrave’s body did not come from either of the guns of the duo charged, but from a third officer who was not charged. Stabroek News was reliably informed that the third officer, was also one of the witnesses during the preliminary inquiry into the charge.

Belgrave was killed on October, 2012 and the ranks were freed on May 8, 2014.

Weeks later, the prosecution of criminal matters was again in the news after the accused in the Kirpalani multimillion-dollar robbery, committed last December were freed. Howard Rambarose, Rajiv Rajesh Singh, and Alastair Naughton who were implicated in the actual robbery and Joan Persaud, who was charged with receiving stolen funds walked out of the Georgetown Magistrate Court after the prosecutor failed to produce the case file.

Their freedom came after seven adjournments over a five-month period. This newspaper was told that during this period the file was never produced and no witness was ever called.

Police had responded to the Belgrave case. They said that they were being made the scapegoat and though the prosecutor in the case is a member of the force he operated out of the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecution having completed the Early Case Assessment Programme (ECAP). It was a similar set up in the Kirpalani robbery case, this newspaper was told.

One security source said it was clear that there needs to be better communication between the police/DPP and the judiciary if there is going to be a successful prosecution of criminal matters. The source said if the prosecutor is not in possession of a file that is a “red flag” and it ought to be the responsibility of the sitting magistrate to investigate that in the interest of justice. The source said the person in charge of the court superintendent’s office also had to play a part in ensuring that prosecutors carry out their functions effectively.

The source said that there may be instances that need to be addressed directly to the hierarchy of the force. It was pointed out that what occurred in these two court cases “has happened before. It is not anything new.”

 Deep crisis

Social activist Karen De Souza, in a recent interview with this newspaper said that the country is facing “an extremely deep crisis of law enforcement and the judicial system.” She said that for this year there has been a number of cases in which the police have acted irregularly and the police authorities have not moved swiftly to acknowledge and deal with them.

“One of the things that people are saying and the parents of a number of victims is that they are not seeing any justice and it is true. They are not going to see any justice because in truth as far as I can see the court system is not about dispensing justice. The court system is largely about who has superior skills, who has the money to pay a more forceful lawyer, better known lawyer, so that in very few cases do we see the judges or the magistrates spending enough time and listening carefully enough and questioning enough to establish the facts of a matter,” she said.

Making reference to the Belgrave matter, she said that “this notion of the police investigation and what happened, it really should have been an open and shut case. There was no question of the police officers who were there. There was no question about finding the weapon…” She said something is very seriously wrong with the way evidence is being collected and presented in the courts.

Shot teen

On April 30, Griffith was shot in the mouth by a cadet officer who insisted that he had witnessed a robbery and could provide information on the perpetrator. It was a close relative of the cadet officer who had been robbed. He left his post on the East Coast and with about a dozen ranks travelled to the East La Penitence Squatting area where he confronted the teen. Playing Russian roulette with his weapon in a bid to force the teen to talk, he placed the gun in the child’s mouth and pulled the trigger.

The cadet officer is yet to be charged. Last week, Griffith’s lawyer Dexter Todd, told this newspaper that based on his information the DPP has advised that the man be charged.

A frustrated Marcel Griffith said that she is yet to hear from the police in relation to the treatment meted out to her son. She told reporters that everyone is telling her to “keep a cool head but I am frustrated that my son get shot so long and nothing has been done about it up to now.”

She said that since he was shot, he has not gone back to school.

De Souza in making reference to this case, told this newspaper, “I really do not understand what kind of investigation is necessary to determine that a policeman acted improperly because I would say I am 99.99 per cent certain that there is no part of any instruction to the police that when they are using a firearm, it should be placed in someone’s mouth.”

She pointed out too that the policeman was not alone and as such identification would not be an issue.

“By virtue of the weapon being discharged in the boy’s mouth there is no question about proper or improper action. This is not an investigation that required a whole lot of time even if the boy was unable to give a statement. It seems to me that the police should have been moving very swiftly,” she said while noting that it seems that the imperative is still to protect “our fellow persons in uniform regardless of their behaviour”.

In relation to the allegation of torture committed on Thorrington at the Sparendaam Police Station, police said one rank has been transferred while another is under close arrest. The 19-year-old told Stabroek News that lawmen soaked his hands with methylated spirits before lighting them on fire and then kept him in the lock-ups for three days before taking him to the hospital, where he is currently a patient. He was picked up for loitering on May 25. An investigation is currently being conducted by the Office of Professional Responsibility.

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