The recent discharge of a community policeman who was charged with shooting a man to death has once again opened discussion about what options are available to police to ensure that witnesses, especially those in high-profile cases, turn up to testify.
Stabroek News understands that based on what was presented to the court, there were several glaring lapses on the part of the investigating ranks while the owner of the gun never appeared even though the presiding magistrate had issued an arrest warrant for him.
Harry Rajpat was freed two Thursdays ago after Magistrate Clive Nurse upheld a no-case submission made by his attorney Bernard de Santos SC and threw out the case because of the lack of evidence. The matter was being heard at the Wales Magistrate’s Court.
Rajpat was accused of shooting Godfrey Jhaggroo to death on December 19, 2013 while he was walking on the West Bank Demerara public road en route to the police station to make a report against a neighbour who had lashed him in the stomach with a piece of wood.
Since the case was discharged the relatives of the deceased have heard nothing more about it and Jhaggroo’s mother Chunramanie has since told Stabroek News that she has retained a prominent attorney to look into the matter.
Communications officer at the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Liz Rahaman confirmed to this newspaper last Thursday that the dead man’s relatives had visited the chambers the previous week and filled out a complaint form. She said the DPP’s Chambers will now make a request to the Crime Chief for the depositions in the case with a view to having the matter reviewed.
Previously there had been cases where after a perusal of the depositions, the DPP had advised that the police reopen the preliminary inquiry.
A distraught Chunramanie had told this newspaper in the days after Rajpat was freed that she was shocked by the decision, adding that after six months, she has received no justice.
Stabroek News spoke to the woman a second time and she described what had occurred during the six months that the matter was before the court.
According to Chunramanie, the case was called sometimes as often as three times a month. She said she was present on each occasion.
According to her, approximately five policeman testified. She said the magistrate had issued arrest warrants for the owner of the gun that was allegedly used to shoot her son and the daughter of the shop owner who had lashed her son with a wood prior to him being shot to death. She said that in spite of the issuing of the arrest warrants the duo never appeared before the court.
According to Chunramanie, persons related and known to Rajpat had witnessed the shooting and as such “they didn’t wan talk.” They were never listed as witnesses in the case.
The woman recalled that during the preliminary inquiry one of the policemen who testified did speak of the gun that was used to shoot her son. According to her the officer told the court that they had forgotten to take fingerprints from the weapon. She said too that the policeman was asked by the court if any photographs were taken and he responded in the affirmative. However, when asked to produce them, the witness told the court that they had thrown them away since they had no use for them. According to the woman, the weapon was taken to court on numerous occasions.
Asked if a bullet was recovered from her son’s body the woman responded in the negative but said that there was something, probably a shell that was left breached in the weapon after the shooting. This, she said, was not taken to court and according to her, when she had visited the station, subsequent to the shooting, the ranks were trying to get it out.
She said that as the case progressed, she began to lose hope. “I knew that they would try and cover it up,” she said.
She recalled that on the day Rajpat was freed he went to court oddly dressed and was wearing foot chains. She said that usually he would wear long-sleeve shirts and neatly pressed pants but on this day he was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. She said he had never before gone to court dressed like that or wearing foot cuffs. She said that as usual his family members were in the court room.
With reference to the owner of the gun, Chunramanie told Stabroek News that they had given the police an address in Georgetown for the man but the ranks claimed that such an address did not exist.
She insisted that as a last resort the magistrate should have adjourned the court and instructed the police to send a patrol to the Belle Vue (which is not far from the court) in search of the owner of the gun and the woman who were wanted by the court.
For her and her family, the court system and the police failed to ensure justice was served.
Police had said Jhaggroo was involved in an argument with his mother, during which his neighbour who operates an off-licence liquor store, intervened and assaulted him with a piece of wood.
According to police, Jhaggroo was on his way to the Wales Police Station to make a report when he was confronted by three men, who had been at the off-licence liquor store, and he was shot in his back with a shotgun. Jhaggroo was pronounced dead on arrival at the West Demerara Regional Hospital. Though police had said that he was shot to the back, a post-mortem examination revealed that Jhaggroo died from injuries to his head caused by a shotgun.
Chunramanie had told this newspaper that her son went home from work that evening and upon discovering that their DVD player’s remote control was damaged he started to argue with his sisters. “That’s when the man over there and some people in the shop drinking start to throw words at him and he told them that they shouldn’t put their mouth in family matter,” she recalled, before adding that her neighbour then became enraged and rushed over to their house and hit her son in the stomach with a piece of wood.
“Is then my son pick up the wood and pelt it back and it hit his daughter and the man said he going to the police but I called the police at Wales and they said that I should bring my son… So I tell him to walk up without me [as] I had to put on my clothes and he left…,” she said.
A short while later she was informed that her son had been shot.
She recalled seeing her neighbour’s car and another car parked on the roadside. “I see him Gewan [her neighbour] pitching a torchlight and picking up bullet shells…and the more they pitch the light is the more blood we see,” she said.
An eyewitness had related that he was walking along the unlit public road when he suddenly heard gunshots and saw Jhaggroo’s body being dumped into a vehicle.
Rajpat, 20 was charged with murder after turning himself in at La Grange Police Station a few days after the shooting.
A security expert told this newspaper that from all indications, the court has a double standard when it comes to serious matters that are engaging its attention. He questioned the yardstick used by magistrates as to what would be enough evidence for the matter to be taken to the High Court.
The source said it has been noticed that too many cases are being thrown out of court because key witnesses are not turning up to give their evidence. “This is a practice that must stop,” the source said adding that this is an indication that “something is terribly wrong.”
According to the source, questions have to be asked as to what the court and the police are doing about this situation, particularly given the fact that this seems to be a dominant factor in the majority of the cases that are discharged. “Witnesses cannot be allowed to give written statements and then don’t turn up to court. Arrest warrants need to be issued for them and every effort has to be made to arrest them. When they are arrested they should be locked up until the court is ready to hear their evidence,” the source said.
Stabroek News had asked acting Commissioner of Police Seelall Persaud about the issue of the non-appearances of witnesses following the discharge of Rondy Jagdeo and his response was that witnesses have a moral obligation to appear and give evidence.
He said that while the trend of no-show witnesses was of concern to him, it was a reflection of the society we live in. “I am saying yes (it is of concern) from the point of view that I would like to see witnesses meet that moral obligation,” he added.
He made the point that magistrates are under pressure to complete cases in a timely manner and as such can’t be prolonging them because witnesses are not coming.
The security expert told Stabroek News that in the case of a shooting among the first things that have to be done is the dusting of the weapon for fingerprints. He said the next step is ballistics as regards spent shells and the bullet that is recovered from the body of the deceased. It was noted that there may be enough physical evidence available that can be used to commit a person to the high court.
It was explained that at a preliminary inquiry, all the evidence does not have to be presented but rather just enough to convince the court that it should be sent to the High Court for trial.
The source said there seemed to be a double standard in that depending on your status in society and your links you may be subjected to a lighter penalty. The source used an example of a case in which a woman was killed and her body stuffed into a septic tank. It was pointed out that in this case only one piece of evidence could have been presented to the court as the others were misplaced when the person in charge of the crime scene at the time retired.
“The magistrate committed those men to trial in the absence of physical evidence,” the source said before once again questioning how much evidence is really required at a preliminary inquiry.
The source also questioned why Rajpat was not rearrested after he was freed as has been so many times, citing Carolan Lynch’s case. “Is not yesterday police rearresting people. Why is this being done so selectively?” the source asked while pointing out that high-profile cases are not taken seriously enough.
Going back to the Jhaggroo case, the source said police investigators, if they had wanted, could have secured an air tight case to ensure that the accused was sent to the High Court. “This man was shot in cold blood, publicly…. This sort of thing is happening too often,” he said pointing out that the system needs to function to ensure that those left to grieve get justice and that the guilty party is punished.
According to the source more needs to be done to ensure that witnesses honour their obligation and appear before the court and give evidence. It was noted that many times, witnesses are not summoned and this can contribute to the outcome of the case. According to the source, the police are the ones responsible for this.
It was stressed that the matters presented can be of a circumstantial nature or based on direct (eyewitness) evidence.