Three deaths on the seawall

Considering all of the facts known at this point,  there is an unmistakably familiar incongruence in the police explanations for the deaths of three men on the seawall on March 15 and numerous outstanding questions.

This haze is worsened by the absence of any perceptible reform of the Guyana Police Force from the point at which extrajudicial killings occurred frequently -particularly in the period 2002-2008 – and when the police were not accountable for their behavior and were not held accountable. The force has hardly evolved since then. Its ethos, methods and senior personnel remain connected to that period of excesses and unaccountability. It must not be forgotten, however, that the force and its families suffered tragically from the loss of many servicemen at the hands of criminals during this period.

Nearly three years into the Granger administration, the stasis in the police force is both befuddling and damning. President Granger was a signatory to the report of the Disciplined Forces Commission in 2004 which magisterially pronounced on numerous ills of the police force including the use of force and its correlates, particularly extrajudicial killings. While as Opposition Leader and in other incarnations, Mr Granger had railed against the excesses and abuses which had dogged the force and resulted in numerous killings in which the victims were made out to be real threats to the lives of law enforcers.

The deep-seated problems besetting the force were on show at the recent Commission of Inquiry that the President convened into the alleged assassination plot against him when senior officers implicated each other in wrongdoings and dissembling. Yet, these appear to have been papered over and left to be forgotten in the hope that the underlying maladies will dissolve. That will not happen. Instead, they will continue to fester and produce results that run counter to law and order and the rule of law.

To make matters worse, since January 18th this year, the President and his government have been in possession of a supposedly important report from a British security expert on reforms that are necessary to the police force but the public has been kept completely in the dark. Where necessary, redactions should have been made but the report released to the public. It is either that Mr Russell Combe’s report is useless and will be shelved to gather dust like so many others or the President is failing to discharge his duties on this matter.  Whichever the case, the police force will remain under unflattering light and the worst will be assumed of it in cases like the killings on the seawall on March 15.

Based on the police version, Dextroy Cordis, 46, called “Dottie” of Lot 4 Grove Public Road, East Bank Demerara; Kwame Assanah, a former soldier, of Buxton, East Coast Demerara and Errol Adams, 57, called ‘Dynamite,’ of Dart-mouth, Essequibo Coast and also Buxton were killed while engaging the police during the commission of a robbery.

The killings came after months of pressure on the police force to do something about the spate of merciless attacks on customers leaving commercial banks. The failure of the police to halt the robberies would be seen as another factor goading them to deliver results. The seawall deaths also followed swiftly on the ill-advised announcement by the Public Security Minister, Mr Ramjattan that sting operations would be conducted to catch the criminals. The three men killed appeared to have been easily lured to the seawall in one such sting operation.

What the police and independent investigators will now have to address is whether the lethal force employed was warranted. One of the men in the car that trailed the intended robbery victim had a gun and based on what the police said he engaged them with it. If that were the case, the police would be able to credibly argue that they had to shoot to kill. However, the police will have a much harder time explaining how the second man in the car was killed if he didn’t have an offensive weapon on him.

Just as troubling would be the fate of the third man who was said to be on a motorcycle and was also said to be part of the intended robbery. He apparently, counterintuitively, moved towards the scene of withering gunfire and was himself fatally shot after supposedly engaging the police. Yet, his colleague on the bike managed to get away unscathed and has not been found since. Strange.

There must be a proper and credible investigation of these deaths. It is even now more likely as a Commission of Inquiry has been convened by the President into a non-fatal accident involving one of the boats donated to the President’s programme for schoolchildren. The police cannot be expected to credibly investigate themselves and that burden shouldn’t be on them anyway.  Unfortunately, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) which addresses all fatalities at the hands of the police will be unable to begin its work on this case as it is headless. President Granger has failed to make an appointment to this post for more than a year now after unthinkingly forcing the resignation of the previous holder of the office. Even when the Chairman of the PCA is appointed, he/she will require the requisite resources to comprehensively investigate what happened on March 15.

What is required is a clinical, forensic investigation of the scene of the seawall shootings. There must be a re-creation of what is known to have transpired. The customer/decoy must remain anonymous but the police clearly know who this person is and he/she will have vital information to provide to any inquiry.

The questions include the distance of the law enforcers from the two suspects in the car at the time the shooting began, how many law enforcers fired weapons and how many rounds were discharged, the number of bullet wounds each man sustained and to which parts of the body, do the bullet wounds suggest what posture the men who died would have adopted at the point of impact, what, if anything, did the unarmed man do to attract multiple shots and did the police take sufficient steps to disable rather than kill? Similar questions abound in relation to the suspect on the motorbike who was killed. How far from the initial shooting was he, where did he sustain wounds and might he have been attempting to flee the scene at the point at which he was shot?

Finally, have the police interviewed the last two dozen victims of robberies after leaving the banks to determine if any of these men who died on March 15 had been connected to their robberies? Do the police now have a clear understanding of how these robberies were committed? These questions and many more from March 15 have to be answered.

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