Despite the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) recommending more than a dozen coroner’s inquests into unnatural deaths since the start of the year, none have been started.
A source at the DPP’s Chambers told Sunday Stabroek that after reviewing files sent by the police, inquests were recommended in 15 cases.
The identities of the deceased in those cases were not immediately available. This newspaper subsequently attempted to get this information as well as the status of those inquests from the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts but was unsuccessful.
However, the police provided this newspaper with information on 11 of the inquests, while noting that none had started. The bulk of those matters relate to road fatalities. The DPP had also earlier this year advised that an inquest be conducted into the shooting deaths of three men at the hands of the police.
The traffic accidents on the list relate to the deaths of Shawn Richards on January 4th at Diamond Access Road, East Bank Demerara; Rohan Pooran, on the Stanleytown Public Road, New Amsterdam on February 10th; Harry Persaud on the Sarah Johanna Public Road, East Bank Demerara on January 31st; Kemo Stewart, at Water and Holmes streets on March 23rd; Krishnoutie, 62, at Met-en-Meerzorg Public Road, West Coast Demerara in June, 2017; Alana Ramsaran, 25, on February 3rd, 2018, at Schoonard Access Road, West Bank Demerara; and police constable Theon Hope and Quason Anthony, which occurred on May 1st, 2018 at Loo Creek, Linden/ Soesdyke Highway. With regard to Hope and Anthony, the DPP recently withdrew two counts of causing death by dangerous driving laid against the driver, Rishawn Pierre, and advised instead that the inquest be conducted.
An inquest had also been recommended into the March 10th, 2018 motorcycle accident which claimed the lives of Stanley Junior, 24, and immigration officer Navana Chase on the Houston Public Road. The two were on a CBR motorcycle when Junior allegedly lost control and crashed into a lantern post while negotiating a turn.
Inquests into the drowning deaths of 50-year-old Gavin Moses and 13-year-old Kimeanda Prince on October 29th, 2017, at Rockstone, Essequibo River and the stabbing death of Oranda Flatts, 25, which occurred at Amelia’s Ward, Linden on February 9th, have also been recommended.
The March 15th fatal shooting of Dextroy Cordis, Kwame Assanah and Errol Adams, along the Kingston seawall, in Georgetown, is to also be the subject of an inquest.
The men, who were described as suspected bandits, were fatally shot north of the GNS Sports Ground after police said they opened fire on ranks.
The men, the police said, were about to execute a robbery on a customer who had withdrawn $9.2 million from a bank. Based on the police’s version of events, Cordis and Assanah were spotted in a car in the vicinity of Scotiabank on Robb Street. They were said to have later trailed the bank customer to the seawall. Police followed in an unmarked vehicle.
“…[They] drove up to the customer’s vehicle and exited, one brandishing a small arm at the customer,” the police had said in a statement, which added that an anti-crime patrol, which was in close proximity, called out to the men but the one who was armed fired several rounds at the police, who returned fire.
Two men were spotted on a CG motorbike near the dead men’s vehicle and one of them opened fire on the police, who again returned fire. As a result, police said Adams was fatally shot, while his accomplice sped away on the bike.
The questionable circumstances surrounding the killings, including the fact that at least one of the men was shot in the back, led to calls for an independent investigation. These calls were bolstered on March 26th, when Devon Lyte, who claimed to be an eyewitness, provided a version different from the police’s and gave a sworn statement alongside his attorney, Nigel Hughes. He said he was working on the roof of the Guyana Softball Association building on Carifesta Avenue at the time of the shooting.
Based on his account, Cordis, Assanah and Adams, who were in a black car, were being pursued by the unmarked police vehicle, which he said opened fire on the men’s car. “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, there was rapid gunfire and 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.
Additionally, last month, the Registrar of the Supreme Court placed notices in the newspapers requesting that witnesses for two inquests appear. The first matter relates to Julian Alleyne and it started on June 8th at the Providence Magistrate’s Court. The notice did not state how Alleyne died but listed the names of eleven witnesses, four of whom were law enforcement ranks.
The second matter relates to Harry Brijmohan. June 15th was the first hearing at the Georgetown Magistrate’s Courts. Eight persons are expected to take the witness stand. Brijmohan, a 26 year old office assistant attached to the Kaieteur News, died on November 18, 2016, hours after he was involved in a head-on collision involving a car along the Houston Public Road, East Bank Demerara.
He was heading home from work when the accident occurred and sustained severe head injuries, a dislocated shoulder and a broken foot.
On January 14th, 2016, the Coroners (Amendment) Act of 2016 was passed despite concerns of the opposition that it was a “cut and paste” piece of legislation that had not benefitted from widespread consultations.
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams, the mover of the bill, had argued that the amendments would pave the way for inquests into the existing large number of unnatural deaths for which relatives need answers and closure. The opposition had disagreed with his reasoning, stating that what was needed is a holistic approach.
The bill sought to have the act amended to give the Judicial Service Commission the power to appoint “fit and proper persons” as coroners; have at least three in Demerara, two in Berbice and one in Essequibo; have a coroner appointed for the whole of Guyana, have every person appointed to that position take and subscribe to the oath of office taken by a magistrate; have all the powers, privileges, rights and jurisdiction of a magistrate and justice of the peace and empower the Chief Justice to assign any number of coroners to a county.
As it stood prior to the passage of the amendments, all magistrates were coroners and inquests were heard by a magistrate presiding in or closest to the area where the unnatural death had occurred.
Opposition parliamentarian and Williams’ predecessor Anil Nandlall recently asked him to identify the corners appointed since the passage of the amendment. In response, Williams, in a written response submitted to the National Assembly, said that the appointment of such persons is the responsibility of the Judicial Service Commission.
Nandlall had repeatedly said that no such appointment has been made despite the passage of legislation and that magistrates are still saddled with the responsibility of conducting inquests.