Testimony from the three senior police officers who have so far appeared before the Commission of Inquiry into the July 18 fatal shooting of three Lindeners have exposed inconsistencies between their accounts of events.
The hearings which began on Monday have so far heard from three of the most senior officers directly connected to the incident including Commissioner of Police, Leroy Brumell, the former Divisional Commander responsible for Linden, Senior Superintendent Clifton Hicken and Assistant Superintendent Patrick Todd, the officer-in-charge on the ground at the time.
The commission is mandated to inquire into and report on the circumstances surrounding the shooting to death of three Linden men, Allan Lewis, Ron Somerset, and Shemroy Bouyea and the injury of several others at the MacKenzie-Wismar Bridge on July 18, during a protest over the increase in electricity tariffs.
With three dead and over twenty injured during the shooting that evening, one of the critical questions has been who fired the lethal shots since police have denied doing so. Somerset and Lewis’s families have filed reports with the police alleging that the duo were murdered and have retained an attorney to look after their interests.
So far, Todd has admitted that he is the only police official who knows who fired shots during the incident at the Wismar/MacKenzie Bridge which spans the Demerara River linking the two sections of Linden, and which was a focal point of the protest. However, Hicken, in his testimony, has also admitted that he gave orders to fire tear gas and cartridges to clear the bridge as well.
In his testimony, Todd denied ordering ranks to open fire to clear the bridge of protestors on July 18 and said he was the only person to fire shotgun cartridges and discharge teargas in a bid to disperse the large crowd. He said he fired in the air and on the ground and he had not observed any other ranks firing anything.
But Brumell, indicating others had fired shots, said that there were admissions from those who fired tear gas though he did not receive any information as to which rank fired shots.
Police in a statement to the media that night had said “the police discharged shotgun cartridges in the direction of the crowd resulting in a few persons being injured. However, the police have so far been unable to acquire sufficient information from the Mackenzie Hospital staff in order to verify the persons injured and the extent of their injuries as a hostile crowd is gathered outside of the Hospital.”
With regard to the question as to who gave the order to shoot, the three officials have not been clear on this with each saying that the instruction emanated from someone else.
Brumell told the inquiry that Todd gave the order to shoot, based on the report that he had received on the incident. The top cop said that at no time did he (Brummell) instruct that shots be discharged and further said that there was no justification for the use of lethal force on the protestors.
Hicken, in his testimony, said that he did not have the authority to direct ranks of the Tactical Services Unit to shoot at protesters, and in order for that unit to take action, Brumell would have to pass the directions. He said that according to the force’s Standard Operating Proce-dures, only the Police Com-missioner or, in his absence, the Deputy Commissioner of Operations could deploy the riot unit. He said that Brumell had instructed him to “let the unit [TSU] clear the bridge,” and as a result he contacted Todd and relayed the instruction from the Commissioner.
But Hicken later said that he had received a report that could have led him to believe that the lives of officers were threatened and “I told the officer in charge to use the necessary training as instructed to clear the bridge.” Under questioning, he also admitted to authorizing the use of firearms on July 18 but only for the ranks of his division. “I authorised Sergeant English to use shotguns. He called me and told me a government building was under fire and they were prevented from going in, so I authorised him to discharge rounds in the air, after which we extinguished the fire,” Hicken said.
When asked whether authorisation was granted to any other rank, Hicken responded in the negative. However, after making reference to his typed statement, Hicken explained that he authorised the use of weapons, specifically shotguns, to English and also to Todd.
He added that this authorisation was not passed down by Brumell. “Yes sir, that was in my brief… It cannot be my decision. That is in the standard operation procedure,” Hicken, said when asked by attorney for the families, Nigel Hughes, if the use of shotgun if necessary was his decision. Hicken also confirmed that there were men, women and some children on the bridge when he gave the order to use shotguns to clear it. “You are missing the tear smoke. You are emphasising on the shotgun. There was tear gas and shotguns. One don’t go without the other,” Hicken further said.
He also said that “based on what I was told and based on information I received through the system, that [the shootings] could not have been done by cartridges that were used in the unit.” Hicken specified that bird pellets were used. “It caters for speed, so when it reaches a certain velocity, it weakens,” he explained.
Todd, for his part, has testified that he was the only policeman to discharge tear gas and cartridges from the shotgun. At 6 pm that day, Todd said, Hicken instructed the unit to report to the bridge and to have it cleared by nightfall. There, he said, police faced missiles in the form of bottles and other objects and after constantly contacting Hicken to inform him of the attacks on officers, instructions were given to use tear gas and shotguns.
By this time, Todd said, several explosions, which sounded like gunshots, were heard and after reporting this to Hicken, he was told to continue his attempt at clearing the bridge by using tear gas and the shotguns. Todd has, however, denied harming anyone during the operation.
The question of exactly how many ranks were in Linden at the time and the accounting for their weapons and ammunition has also been raised. Brumell said that there were two sets of ranks in Linden on July 18: 18 from the TSU in Georgetown and 14 from the Anti-Crime Unit based in Linden. All were armed with various types of weapons including a total of four shotguns, two of which were capable of firing pellets, he said.
Todd has said that his unit – the TSU – carried two 9mm pistols, four .38 pistols, four FN rifles and four shotguns. Based on Hicken’s testimony, at least some of the ordinary ranks under his command were also armed including with shotguns which were fired at some point that night.
Brumell also stated that ranks from the police force’s special branch were present at the time of the shooting and while he could not say if they were armed, the normal procedure is that undercover ranks most times will be armed but their weapons would not be visible to the public.
It was pointed out to Brumell that in one of the police logs tendered as an exhibit, that the names of five officers who were recorded as leaving for Linden were not recorded in the property book. The commissioner said that there were some lines crossed through the names and the weapon numbers and it was later agreed that the person who made the entries would have to explain. He added that it appeared as if a mistake was made in relation to the crossed out numbers. He was asked to ascertain whether the weapons that were crossed out were sent for ballistics tests, while Hughes noted that “phantom names” were recorded in the book as being issued weapons but who had nowhere to go. Brumell agreed that it was not normal for persons to be issued weapons and not go anywhere.
Hicken said that he requested the TSU to support the 40 other ranks on the ground. He had testified that the 40 ranks were not equipped to remove the crowd that had grown on the Mackenzie-Wismar Bridge and were there to monitor the procession.
Meanwhile, Hicken as Commander of the Division at the time, appears to have been unaware of events following the shooting according to his testimony. Despite saying that he was in constant contact with Todd, he told the inquiry that he was unaware that anyone was killed until the day after the shooting. However, Hicken was in constant contact with Brumell to brief him and a statement by Brumell to the inquiry appears to contradict Hicken’s version that he did not know of the killings until the next day.
Brumell said when he summoned Hicken for an update, the officer did not indicate who fired even though he said shots were fired and people died. Brummell had said that he only became aware that shots were fired at the bridge when contacted by the press. He subsequently made contact with Hicken, who informed him that shots were fired but never informed him that persons were injured. All Hicken told him was that pellets and smoke were used on the protestors, he later said.
Hicken had told the inquiry that around 7.30 pm on July 18 he was only told that persons were injured. “I hadn’t had any information that someone was shot and killed. In fact, I got information that someone was allegedly injured and I went to the Mackenzie Hospital and the nurse say, ‘no police can come in here,’” he recounted. Around 10 pm, he added, he received further information that someone had been shot but up to that time, he was unaware that it had been a fatal injury. He said that it was at 6 am on July 19 that he learnt persons were killed.
The newspapers the next day reported on the deaths of three of the men.