KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent: – Police here have charged four of their colleagues, two corporals and two constables, with assault and causing grievous bodily harm.
The charges stem from an incident last November that reportedly left one of two teenage youths, then 14 and 15, hospitalized and unconscious for seven days.
The cops pleaded not guilty to the charges when they appeared in court in Kingstown on Thursday.
They were released on EC$800 (US$300) bail with one surety and are carded to reappear in court on September 22.
I Witness-News was unable to verify whether the cops had been relieved of duty pending the outcome of the case.
In addition to the criminal charges that the State has brought against the cops, the young men’s families have instructed lawyer Jomo Thomas to sue the police for general, specific, and punitive damages.
“We want this to be a deterrent to police misconduct, brutality and torture of private citizens,” Thomas told I Witness-News on Friday.
Thomas said the teenagers were arrested by officers from the Criminal Investigation Department on November 17, 2008 in the vicinity of the J.P. Eustace Secondary School, near Victoria Park in Kingstown.
He said the youths spent 12 hours in police custody and were “badly beaten by police”.
“Because of the beating administered to [the younger of the two], the police thought it was wise, about 1 o’clock in the morning, to take him to the hospital.
“They took him to the hospital and after a few hours he fell into a coma. He was in that state of unconsciousness for seven days,” Thomas said.
He said that the young men recounted their ordeal during a press conference.
They were subsequently charged with petty theft. Police say they stole a hacksaw and a bottle of strong rum respectively from two businesses in Kingstown.
Thomas said that his clients had previous run-ins with the law.
“That is neither here nor there. Even if they were mass murderers, that is no reason for the police to take them and beat them,” he said.
Deputy COP: They will be vindicated
Last week, Deputy Commissioner of Police Bertie Pompey told The News newspaper that he was confident that the men would be exonerated.
He was at the time filling in for Commissioner of Police Keith Miller who was on sick leave but had not given instructions for the cops to be charged.
“I am sure, sure they will be vindicated. So there is no need to charge them really. As a matter of fact, they should
charge them just for transparency,” Pompey told the newspaper.
Thomas said he thought Pompey’s comments were “unfortunate”.
“In the first place, the Director Public Prosecutions, except for the Attorney General’s Office, is the highest legal authority in the land. And we thought that there was improper action on the part of the Commissioner for not immediately moving to charge the guys, because I believe that once he was directed to do it, he should have done it.
“Now if the Director of Public Prosecutions directs you to charge a man, and he (the Assistant Commissioner) was the police authority at the time, because Miller was out of the country, I don’t think he had any authority to pronounce anything like that to the media,” Thomas said.
Thomas commended the DPP for his decisions to charge the cops.
“It indicates, in a small way, that we are a country of laws and not a country of men,” Thomas said.
He said he was however “disheartened by the black wall of silence demonstrated at the court” when several cops turned up to the hearing in an attempt to conceal the identity of the officers being charged.
“It goes to show that the police hierarchy is in tandem with the notion that their officers are innocent and should be defended at all costs,” he said.
He said he took no pleasure in the officers being charged and that he knew one of them personally and that that officer is serious about wanting to curb crime.
He, however, said that that has no bearing on the matter since he believes that the actions of the cops contravened the law.
Thomas further said the right thing was done when the police were charged since he believes that their actions were improper and illegal.
Police brutality complaints
Vincentians have been using several media, including newspaper and radio, to decry what they term police brutality, especially allegedly by members of the Rapid Response Unit, commonly referred to as the “Black Squad”.
They say that Black Squad officers, who are often heavily armed, harass and often beat innocent, law-abiding citizens.
A letter writer in The Vincentian newspaper on Friday, said Vincentians had lost confidence in the police force and its leadership, mainly the Commissioner and the Minister of National Security, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who is also Prime Minister.
“We are now experiencing a gang of evil, better known as the Black Squad, and, while crime has declined, police killing people has increased.”
The opinion writer said that Vincentians must engage the international community and that citizens’ human rights have been violated.
“We must make the world know that we are being intimidated with the use of guns at the hands of the police force. Our brothers and sisters in the diaspora must know the truth about what is happening in this country.”
Commissioner Miller this week told the Searchlight newspaper that he has instructed his officers to continue to pile on
the pressure on criminal elements here on the heel of the recently -concluded operation “Vincy Pac”.
During that operation, which included cops from other Caribbean nations, police shot and killed three men in Vermont, an agricultural community west of here.
He told the newspaper that “a number of guns went into hiding” during that operation and a strong police presence kept them off the street during the carnival activities that ended on Monday.
In late June, residents of the Kingstown community of Murray’s Village came out in support of another resident who was reported beaten by the Black Squad after he asked them for a search warrant.
Commissioner Miller said that the residents “overreacted” and that the police would take “action” against them, although he said he was happy that the situation did not escalate.
Last week, former cop Williams “Kojo” Williams wrote a letter in The News calling for the resignation of the top cop.
He said the actions of police officers will cause the proposed Constitution to fail when it goes before a referendum later this year.
“Vincentians, frustrated and fed up with the actions of these rogue police officers, will use the referendum to show their disgust for police brutality and the unwillingness of Commissioner Miller to take action to arrest this national embarrassment,” Williams wrote.
Police this week charged three men from an east Kingstown community for assaulting a detective and obstructing him in the performing of his duties on Sunday at Victoria Park, where most carnival activities were held. The men were granted bail in sums ranging from $300 to $900 (US$110 to 335).
Another man was charged with wounding the cop. They men are carded to return to court on September 21.