Assistant Commissioner of Police Clifton Hicken yesterday said that when the police encountered the Rondell ‘Fine Man’ Rawlins gang at Christmas Falls in June, 2008, they were unable to pursue the men because they were in unfamiliar territory with limited resources.
“…I don’t think we had the type of resources and the equipment we needed to pursue that group…It’s a strange terrain. Resources are [deployed] if you know an area…you can’t pursue somebody and you don’t know an area, you’ll run into an ambush,” Hicken told Justice Donald Trotman, who is leading the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the deaths of eight miners, who police have said were killed by the gang.
Hicken, who testified at a public hearing yesterday, recalled the events of June 6th, 2008, at Christmas Falls, where the police had an encounter with four men suspected to be part of the Fine Man Gang, which resulted in one of the gang members being shot dead.
Hicken recalled that on the night of June 5th, when they arrived at the opposite bank of Christmas Falls, they had heard what sounded like gunshots from across the river. He said that at about 7 am the next day, the group, led by him, crossed the river and walked for about half of an hour along vegetation and swamp until they got to the edge of it, where they took up tactical positions, seeking shade within the greenery.
Hicken recalled that they observed four buildings on open land; one being the skeleton of an unfinished two-story building, the others a latrine, a store room and a kitchen. The area looked abandoned, he stated, likening it to an abandoned workshop.
“I observed first on the top story there was a mattress on the ground…A thin-bone Rastafarian; projected forehead, short, Rasta hair…resembling that of the bulletin that was put out for Fine Man—Rondell Rawlins…on the second flat…we had a thin Rastafarian male with a white brief or trunks. There was another one in a hammock with a green pants and a gray jersey and to the edge of the vegetation, just like five or six feet from where we were, there was another man in a brown pants and a camouflage jersey as if he was probably farming or gardening,” Hicken related.
He said that the team stood, observing the scene for about 20 to 25 minutes, when there was suddenly a signal (perhaps from the ‘gardener,’ or what he speculated could have simply been a sound projected from within the forest), followed by another signal from the Rastafarian on the top floor, the one suspected to be Rawlins.
Hicken stated that the man dressed in white trunks downstairs then strapped an ammunition bag around his shoulder, with what appeared to be an AK-47, before proceeding to fire at the bush.
Another, situated at the kitchen, fired in the direction of the team, while the one bearing resemblance to Fine Man reportedly fled.
The exchange between the groups was said to have lasted 25 minutes to half an hour.
Hicken stated that when the exchange of fire stopped, they searched the buildings, where they discovered guns and ammunition, including three FN rifles (which he noted are only issued to police) on the mattress upstairs, which was equipped with fixed magazines; three shotguns downstairs; another shotgun with ammunition between the kitchen and the store room; and yet another shotgun between the latrine area.
He recalled that a search of the ground revealed two .38 revolvers, a haversack containing ammunition and a quantity of 7.62 by 51, 223 and .38 rounds. Hicken said that no AK-47 was recovered, making it likely that the escaped men had taken that, along with other firearms when fleeing.
While combing the area to ensure that a threat no longer existed, he said they discovered the body of a man, who was later identified as Otis Fifee, called “Mud Up” at the bottom of a slope, lying motionless. He stated that he had been shot to the shoulder and jaw and was not breathing at the time.
Hicken, when asked, said that he had observed no food in the area, but a previous report in this newspaper records that according to a police press release sent out on June 7th, 2008, the Joint Services had discovered “foodstuff to last several weeks in a large kitchen, which also had a gas stove, generator and solar energy,” among other things.
The statement said resulting from the arrest of a number of persons and diligent interrogations and enquiries, about 7 am on the day, ranks on patrol in the Berbice River community had encountered a gang of about six persons.
Following the encounter, Hicken said that a call was made to then Crime Chief Seelall Persaud, who crossed the river, and informed them to secure the exhibits. They then traveled back and made their way to Georgetown, where Hicken said he later briefed then Commissioner of Police Henry Greene on what could be expected at the scene and the amount of fire power the gang had.
Never visited Lindo Creek
Under questioning by Commissioner Trotman, Hicken stated that he had never been deployed to Lindo Creek, and as second-in-charge of the Tactical Services Unit at the time, noted that he would have known if they had been. He later said that the only way that could have occurred was if a direct order was passed by the Police Commissioner in his absence.
Trotman later asked if there was any way that the slain miners could have been mistaken for members of the Fine Man gang, based on photos released in the media, against those issued on the wanted bulletin, to which Hicken stated that he had never made a comparison.
The witness was then shown photos of the eight Lindo Creek miners, and attorney Patrice Henry, pressing forth, asked if it wasn’t the case that new members of the “ever increasing” Fine Man Gang were not being discovered by the Joint Services at the time (to which he responded yes), and if then, if the miners could not have been mistaken for or borne a similar resemblance to one of those men. “I wouldn’t know that,” Hicken responded.
The CoI has been set up to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the killings of Cecil Arokium, Dax Arokium, Horace Drakes, Bonny Harry, Lancelot Lee, Compton Speirs, Nigel Torres and Clifton Berry Wong on or about June 21st, 2008, and to report its findings and recommendations to President David Granger.