Witness to seawall killings wasn’t on roof of building, Top Cop says

-lawyer urges independent probe due to lack of trust in police

Devon Lyte at the press conference on Monday

Acting Police Commissioner David Ramnarine yesterday said evidence disproves the claim by labourer Devon Lyte that he witnessed the police’s fatal shooting of three robbery suspects along the Kingston seawall from the rooftop of a Carifesta Avenue building, while the man’s lawyer called for a full, independent investigation due to the lack of confidence in the police force by him and other witnesses.

“Our investigators are in possession of three statements or in fact several statements but three of which are very, very instructive to the extent that Mr Devon Lyte was never ever, I repeat, never ever on the roof of the building that he claimed he was on…,” Ramnarine yesterday afternoon told a press conference, where he noted that the “active investigation” of the killings has seen several statements obtained, including from the contractor, sub-contractor and security supervisor at Lyte’s worksite.

“In fact, I have to let you know and let the world know that on yesterday’s date [Wednesday], the learned attorney [Nigel Hughes] went to that location where his client seemingly was on the roof on the day in question and he enquired as to where specifically his client was and on being told that his client is a labourer, not a skilled worker, worked on the ground floor, that’s on the ground with what you call a mixer, he left,” Ramnarine added.

Minister of State Joseph Harmon yesterday told a post-Cabinet media briefing that a Coroner’s Inquest would be launched into the killings, in accordance with the law.

Lyte, in the company of Hughes, on Monday submitted a sworn statement, in which he said he witnessed the fatal March 15th encounter while working on the roof of Guyana Softball Association building on Carifesta Avenue. His statement suggested that the police unlawfully killed Dextroy Cordis, 46, called “Dottie” of Grove Public Road, East Bank Demerara, Kwame Assanah, a former soldier, of Buxton, East Coast Demerara, and Errol Adams, 57, called ‘Dynamite,’ of Dartmouth, Essequibo Coast and also Buxton, who police say opened fire on them.

Ramnarine yesterday also said that he has also been informed by investigators that Lyte’s co-workers are disappointed at his claims. “…They did say so—very disappointed, when they learnt and they saw Devon Lyte on television talking this story,” he added, while noting that Lyte had not turned up for work since Sunday.

Ramnarine noted that the case is being investigated by the Office of Professional Responsibility and that the probe was moving at a rapid pace. “Unfortunately, we seem to be on the back foot because Mr Devon Lyte is a no show,” he said.

“It is painful that you can have someone turn up at your office, give what purports to be a story that has national implications that impugns the good work and reputation of a national institution and its officials, rush to publicise—it’s all over the world—and then after the fact, you turn up at the location to find that it cannot be substantiated,” he added.

Ramnarine also used the occasion to encourage anyone who may have seen what transpired at the seawall on the day in question to come forward. “…The force is more open now, there is nothing to be afraid of,” he said.

‘Little confidence’

But in a statement issued last evening, Hughes, who is also the lawyer for Cordis’ family, said Ramnarine’s comments only validated the apprehension of both his client and other witnesses about the police force.

“Needless to say the absence of confidence which several eyewitness expressed to me and other independent investigators about the ability of the Guyana Police Force to protect their safety when their own officers are the subject of the allegation of murder has been confirmed by the statements of the Commission-er,” he said, while adding that it was “unfortunate” that Ramnarine would publicly challenge the statement of a witness that had not been interviewed as yet by the force.

Hughes confirmed that on Monday afternoon his client met with Crime Chief Paul Williams at Eve Leary in order to give a statement.

He said the senior officer who Williams contacted was not available at the time and it was agreed that Lyte would return on Tuesday at lunchtime.

However, he said in the intervening period Lyte contacted him and expressed the collective fear of his family about his safety and protection.

He further said he spoke with Lyte’s grandmother and sister, both of whom were adamant that he would not be attending any police station as they were afraid for the safety of him and their family.

Hughes also confirmed that he went to the Guyana Softball Association’s ground on Wednesday morning, where a person who described himself as a supervisor confirmed Lyte’s presence at the location on March 15th but said that he was not on the roof at the time of the shooting.

The attorney said he subsequently learnt from another source that the contractor was interviewed by the police prior to his arrival and was fearful of losing his contract with the government to repair the building.

Hughes added that he personally interviewed two more eyewitnesses who had a closer vantage point of the shooting and like Lyte they were concerned about their safety.

“These statements have disclosed a frightening chronology of events which have cast not only grave doubts on the version of events provided by the Commissioner of Police but include a recount of one of the police officers turning his guns on a group of persons who were playing football at the Guyana National Service ground when they were observed looking on at the events,” he said, in reference to a group of Brazilian pastors who were at the ground. He released redacted parts of their statements, which indicated that several persons, including the pastors, were in proximity at the time of the shooting.

“Both of these witnesses have expressed little confidence in the ability of the Guyana Police force to protect them and in the light of the public statements and treatment of Mr. Lyte by the Commissioner of Police who commented with[out] the benefit of an interview with him,” he added, while noting that the fears of all the witnesses are now fully justified.

Hughes yesterday also wrote Ramnarine conveying Lyte’s fears and seeking to find out whether the police force is willing to provide protection to witnesses.

He noted too in his statement that he had conveyed the fears of the witnesses to Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan and Crime Chief Williams as well.

“In the light of the considerable fear and apprehension felt by eyewitnesses who have provided me with statements of the events of the 15th March 2018 the family of Mr. Cordis is of the opinion that it is beyond the capacity of the Guyana Police Force to conduct a fair and impartial investigation into the death of Dextroy Cordis,” he said. “The family of Mr. Cordis is now of the firm belief that the Guyana Police Force cannot be entrusted to conduct a fair investigation into the deaths of these young men and consequently wish to call for an full independent investigation into the events of the 15th March 2018,” he added.

‘Witness protection’

Ramnarine yesterday said he was aware that Hughes conveyed Lyte’s concerns over his safety to Williams.

“But Devon Lyte didn’t have witness protection when he went on television on Monday neither did he need witness protection when he came with an attorney at law Monday afternoon at CID headquarters. How funny. How funny indeed,” he remarked.

Questions have been raised from the inception about the police’s account of the circumstances leading to the killing of the three men.

The Guyana Police Force, in a statement, had said that both Cordis and Assanah were identified to them as “two suspicious looking characters” who were spotted in a car in the vicinity of Scotiabank on Robb Street.

A police source has said that the three men were about to execute a robbery on a customer who had withdrawn $9.2 million from the bank.

They reportedly later trailed the 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 police statement had 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 added 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.

Lyte, who spoke to reporters on Monday, had said he was on the roof of the building just before midday on March 15th 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 Road. 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, 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.

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.

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.

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