The recent police killing of three robbery suspects along the Kingston seawall, in Georgetown, on March 15th, is being labelled as unlawful after an explosive statement yesterday by a man who says he witnessed ranks beating one of the men and did not see any shootout as has been claimed.
Devon Lyte, a labourer who said he witnessed the events from the roof of a Carifesta Avenue building, has since submitted a sworn statement to the police, who said he will be interviewed today.
From the inception, there have been calls for the killings to be independently investigated, when the police claimed that the men trailed a bank customer to the location and opened fire on them after they interrupted an attack.
Lyte, in the company of attorney Nigel Hughes and the sisters of Dextroy Cordis—who was killed along with Kwame Assanah and Errol Adams—told a news conference yesterday that he and two other men were working on the roof of the Guyana Softball Association building on Carifesta Avenue just before midday on the day in question when he heard a “banging” sound coming from the seawall.
“When I looked up, I saw that the police had blocked off the road at the top of Camp Street. I then heard shots being fired and I saw there were two cars driving along the seawall road. A black car was in front and it was being followed by a silver car,” he said.
Based on his account, the black car was occupied by Cordis, Assanah and Adams, while the silver car was an unmarked police vehicle. “…The car from behind start opening fire; I don’t know if it’s at the [black] car or up in the air or what may be the case,” Lyte said. “The black vehicle, which was in front, stopped, then I saw one person come out of the black car and stood up at the front driver door,” he added.
The driver of the black car was Assanah.
“I then saw about one person come out of the silver car. He walked towards the black car. I then saw the person from the silver car [the police] start to beat the person who had come out from the driver’s side [Assanah] and was lying on the ground,” he said, while noting that the person was beaten while still on the ground.
Twenty minutes later, Lyte said that he heard rapid gunfire. At the time he heard the rapid gunfire, there was one person standing over the same person who was lying on the ground.
About ten to fifteen minutes after the shooting, he said policemen from Camp Road started to run up the seawall road. They were accompanied by a photographer, he said. An ambulance also arrived.
“When I looked on the seawall, I saw cops out there. The body was lying on the ground, the persons standing up over the person, and I look away about fifteen minutes, look back, camera people show up pun the scene, police show up on the scene, lock down everything and after then it was that,” Lyte related.
He said he did not witness any exchange of gunfire and was unable to say if the police were fired upon. There were two bullet holes in the police vehicle and a gun was reportedly recovered from one of the dead men. “Well, I won’t be able to say upon that part because yuh can’t see the distance away who exchange fire with the police. I won’t be able to say if the guy shoot at the police or the police shoot at them own vehicle or what,” Lyte said.
Lyte’s account of what took place on the day in question differed significantly from that of the police, who said Cordis, 46, called “Dottie” of Lot 4 Grove Public Road, East Bank Demerara, Assanah, a former soldier, of Bux-ton, East Coast Demerara, and Adams, 57, called ‘Dynamite,’ of Dartmouth, Essequibo Coast and also Buxton, were fatally shot north of the GNS sports ground after they opened fire on ranks.
The men, this newspaper was told, were about to execute a robbery on a customer who had withdrawn $9.2 million from the bank.
The Guyana Police Force, in a statement, has said both Cordis and Assanah were identified to them as “two suspicious looking characters” spotted in a car in the vicinity of Scotiabank. They reportedly later trailed a bank customer to the seawall location and police followed them.
“At this time the two suspicious looking characters in the motorcar, drove up to the customer’s vehicle and exited, one brandishing a small arm at the customer,” the statement said.
“At the same time the police anti-crime patrol, which by now was in close proximity called out to the suspicious looking characters but the one who was armed discharged several rounds at the police who returned fire,” it added
As a result, Cordis and Assanah were fatally shot. Cordis appeared to have been the only one armed and questions have been raised about why Assanah was not subdued by non-lethal force.
The statement went on to say that seconds after the exchange of fire, two men were spotted on a CG motorbike near the dead men’s vehicle and one of them opened fired on the police, who again returned fire. As a result, police said Adams was fatally shot, while his accomplice sped away on the bike.
However, while the police had said that there were three vehicles present at the scene, Lyte said there was only the black vehicle and the silver vehicle. He was adamant that there was no motorcycle or fourth suspect in the picture. “There was no motorcycle [that] disappeared with any mysterious pillion rider and the events as set out seem to suggest that this was not the way in which the state related those events and even the Crime Chief expressed some disquiet with the original police version,” Hughes said.
Hours after his disclosure, Lyte, in the company of Hughes, visited the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), at Eve Leary, to submit a copy of his statement to the police.
He was asked to return today, when he will be interviewed by a senior detective.
Public Relations Officer (ag) of the Guyana Police Force Shivpersaud Bacchus in a statement yesterday afternoon confirmed that around 4.15 pm Lyte, in the company of Hughes, submitted the statement, which was issued earlier to Crime Chief Paul Williams.
“It was discussed and agreed for Lyte to return tomorrow [today] to be interview by a Senior Detective in the presence of his Attorney,” the statement added.
Hughes, who told the press conference that he was retained on Sunday evening, said the information related by Lyte “seems to suggest” that the three men were executed.
“His [Lyte] vantage point was second to none. He was up on the roof, one car is being followed by another, one man was put on the ground so he could not have been a threat. So, at the time when the gunfire erupted the one man who was clearly on the ground… he didn’t know where the other two were but we ended up with three dead man,” he noted.
Hughes said he has spoken to the relatives of Assanah, who told him that he [Assanah] was shot ten times. The other two, Cordis and Adams, he said, were shot about six to seven times. “…One had six, so I am not sure where the gunfire took place,” he said.
Lyte’s account, he observed, raised the issue of the driver of the black car (Assanah) being physically assaulted by the police while he was laying on the ground. “As a matter of fact, the driver of the black car was on the ground being physically assaulted for about ten to fifteen minutes before the gunfire erupted and the three occupants of the car were dead,” Hughes said.
What is most disturbing, he added, is that it was not just a group of police officers who appeared to be involved. “Because if the seawall road was blocked off prior to the eruption of the gunfire and prior to the car being stopped and one of the occupants exiting the car, then it seems it required a lot more coordination than otherwise,” he stated.
“He [Lyte] heard banging, looked left, saw the road was blocked off by the police. Those two vehicles were driving east along the seawall road, gunfire erupted, sounding as if they were firing in the air for them to stop. The car in front stopped, the driver got out of the car, the driver of the silver car got out, walked to him, put him on the ground—he was actually assaulting him on the ground—and then after that there was gunfire and at the time the gunfire erupted he was physically standing over the guy [Assanah], Hughes reiterated.
The attorney said that a private firm will pursue whether the autopsies of the men indicated that there were other injuries about their bodies.
Loraine Barrington, one of Cordis’ sisters, told reporters that her family also believes that Cordis was executed and they are calling for justice. “We are here today because we need justice. It is our belief the story that was told by the police is one that is not true, so we are here… it is my desire that the policemen be brought to justice that murdered my brother,” the woman said.
“It is my belief that all three men, they were murdered and probably there may be untold [stories] that have not come to light as yet and may be probably that will ensure that these policemen are charged for murder,” she said.
Hughes said that the rule of law is there so that persons can be arrested if they are acting suspiciously or if they have committed a breach of the law, rather than being left in the hands of somebody who has got a gun.
“The point is the state is not entitled to execute people at random, whatever their reputation may be. And this is not a battle of trying to defend the good or other name of any of the deceased, it is the circumstances in which they met their deaths and if it appears the way it took place, in a manner in which Mr Lyte is saying, it’s an execution,” he explained.
Hughes disclosed that he has since secured other statements but he declined to disclose what other information he has in his possession presently. He, however, said he is working to ensure that there is sufficient evidence in the case in the event that there is a reluctance on the part of the state to act and it is necessary to take the appropriate action.
Hughes also declined to state whether he had spoken to the two other men who were on the roof with Lyte but he noted that he is actively involved in speaking with the contractor responsible for the building. “I don’t have at the moment the capacity to provide them with the protection that they need but let me say, we know how they are,” he said.
President of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) Mike McCormack had told this newspaper last week that an independent investigation should be launched into the fatal shootings.
“The problem is the PCA [Police Complaints Authority] and more so the OPR [Office of Professional Responsibility] are not sufficiently independent so ordinary citizens can be confident,” McCormack said.
He had added that the police force’s account of what transpired on March 15th needs to be verified. “The police version that the shooting was justified needs to be supported by independent verification… citizens need an independent investigation,” McCormack added.
Despite several unanswered questions about the shooting, Commissioner of Police (ag) David Ramnarine last Monday told reporters that it was justified. “The specific details can always be debated but at the end of the day the evidence is there that they were part of a criminal enterprise. So, whatever specific actions they might have played on the day in question…you cannot escape the point… it is inescapable, the fact is they were part and parcel of an arrangement to commit a criminal act with some serious consequences and I am happy that has been aborted,” Ramnarine had said.
He had also warned that failure to swiftly apprehend the lone escaped suspect could result in an act of retribution.