Boy’s life changed forever after shot by police in mistake for wanted man

In December 2001 Vincent Griffith then 12 years old was shot in his left leg by police as he hid in a wardrobe in what was said to have been an abandoned house in New Amsterdam. The police at the time had said they were after a wanted man.

The child eventually lost his leg and a promised investigation by the police yielded nothing.

Today that child is 24 and is currently serving a 40-year prison term in the US while the officer who was said to have riddled his leg with bullets is an Assistant Superintendent in the force.

The child’s father, Vincent Griffith (Sr), says that December 12, 2001 changed his son’s life forever and he places the blame squarely at the feet of the government whom he accuses of never doing anything to help his son.

On that tragic day the police in a release had said that they had gone to the house located at Smythfield/Mt Sinai in search of wanted man Mark McKenzie when the child, who was about two miles away from where he lived, was shot. The officers, said to have been six in number, had gone to find McKenzie, who had threatened to blow up any policeman who attempted to arrest him with a hand grenade. While in the home they heard a noise coming from the wardrobe and according to the release as one of the ranks drew closer to investigate the sound, the door suddenly opened and the police fired. The bullets hit the child who was taken out of the wardrobe and taken for treatment.

At the time the child’s relatives had said that he had gone to retrieve a cap from the home, said to belong to a musician who had spent time in Brazil, and that he heard the noise and thought it was thieves and decided to hide.

“Right now it is just like [my] son dead right now…” the elder Griffith told the Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview as he spoke of his son’s life that went into a downward spiral from then on.

The man said after the incident he managed to get his entire family to the US where they are citizens and he had hoped that life would have turned out better for his only son.

He said the last time he brought his son to Guyana in an attempt to get justice they were unable to see anyone in authority.

He recalled that soon after the story of his son not receiving any justice aired on a local television they learned that the officer who shot him had been promoted to the rank of inspector and this news, he said, affected his son gravely.

After they returned to the US his son would leave the home for days and many times they were unaware of his whereabouts; often he would sleep on the streets. At one point even the prosthetic leg he was fitted with was stolen while he slept on the streets but he was lucky to receive a second. The child also attended school in the US but after years of failing he was eventually put out of the school, his father said.

“One day I watching TV and on the news I see me son get hold up, when you look the charge was sexual assault, attempt rape, attempt murder and attempt abduction.”

“When I go he tell me he ain’t even know wah happen… he use to get the flashback of [name of police officer] shooting he because [name of officer] let off he whole revolver poi, poi all the time, right.

“The man getting a flashback and he deh pon Virginia Airport and he see a lady sweeping and he imagine [name of officer] shooting he and he go and punch up the lady and thing…”


Plea deal

The father said after his son was arrested he was being cajoled to take a plea deal but he advised him not to even as he fought to have his son declared of unsound mind.

“Psychiatrist after psychiatrist coming to see he and all a dem saying how he fit for trial. But you can come and ask a man two three question and say he fit; you gah living with dah man and that is what these psychiatrist don’t understand when I keep telling them,” the elder Griffith said.

He said he then decided to write letter after letter to the various authorities in the US attaching photographs of his injured son but no one offered assistance. He said he even approached Guyanese authorities in the US but was unable to meet with any official.

Griffith said two years after refusing the plea deal offered by the state his son’s public defender was replaced and the new lawyer advised that if he accepted the plea deal three of the charges would have been dropped and he would get three years.

“I tell he no, I say don’t worry with these people… eventually he tell me how he ain’t able… and anyway me son end up accepting the plea deal and they end up giving he forty years in jail…” the man said sadly.

The man said he sat alone in court and listened as his son’s character was assassinated and no one came to his defence and no one ever understood the trauma he had experienced so many years ago for which he never really got any help.

The younger Griffith is now in the Red Onion State Prison in Virginia and his father said it is difficult to visit him.

Recently, his mother and two sisters attempted to visit him but when they turned up at the prison after making the necessary arrangement they were told that he said he did not want to see anyone.

“I know is lie… because one time they beat up me son all kinds of thing in deh, because you know he [is] with the voices in he head and when they try to do he anything he lash out because that is how the vibes does get he against police or authority. They beat up the man and had he in a straitjacket for one week and two week in a dark hole,” the father alleged.

After his sentence the man said son has been “writing some crazy letters.”

The man said it is because of that tragic day when his son was shot that changed his life for the worse and he said what hurts more is that they never got any justice for the actions of the police officer. He said at one point the government had promised to assist his son after he had filed an action in court but while there was a promise to settle the matter this never happened.

“They think it lef and I done because I go away and I spend five years to come home back but I deh running behind me son because all the time is some vibes, some vibes…but when they done sentence he is then I come over here…” the man said.

He said it is his second trip to Guyana since his son was sentenced and since last year several attempts to meet with the lawyer who had represented his son in the High Court has proven futile.

The father said the government still owes his son and he wants them to help to prepare his son’s eventual return to Guyana. They can start, he continued, by transporting a piece of land he [the father] has on lease.

He also has the unrealistic hope that the government could assist in his son being released early from prison and return to Guyana and he said once that is done he would take care of him.

The man said he cannot just sit down and do nothing but he knows that at the age of 59 he may never see his only son again, and admits that at times “some crazy ideas does go through my head but I does just try to hold it together.”

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