The Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force has brought five disciplinary charges, including “mutinous behaviour” against the head of the Police Welfare Association, Sergeant Brenton Smith.
The charges stem from the July 13, 2017 WhatsApp conversation among PWA executive members in which Smith reportedly said that the executive should “storm” the office of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves in an effort to have issues affecting police officers addressed.
“I can confirm that Sergeant 509 Smith was presented today with five charges,” Israel Bruce, lawyer for the PWA, who will represent Smith in the proceedings, told iWitness News Tuesday afternoon.
Bruce further said that he suspects that charges will be brought on Wednesday against another member of the executive, who was among the three persons, including Smith, who were transferred after the development became public.
The charges are all based on the July 13, 2017 WhatsApp conversation.
Smith is charged that he breached “routine force order serial number 120 of September 15th 2016 Part 1 Social Media, Policy and Guidelines section 4 (2)(7) to wit ‘whether on or off duty, Police officers’ conduct will reflect on the Organization. All Police Officers must protect the reputation of the Police Force by behaving in a lawful and appropriate manner, consistent with the police act and regulation force orders and policies and the cybercrime act.’”
The witnesses are Deputy Commissioner of Police, Colin John, Assistant Commissioner of Police Christopher Benjamin, Assistant Commissioner of Police Carlos Sampson, Superintendent of Police Fergusson and Corporal 294 Gibson.
Smith is further charged that he breached “routine force order to wit did conduct yourself in a manner unbecoming to the office of sergeant of Police by stating to wit ‘one of the thing I was thinking today, that we must be so angry that we must storm the Prime Minister’s office all executive members; no authority; we ain’t asking nobody to go we are going over dey’”.
The charge sheet says that is contrary to section 17(1) of Chapter 391/2009 of the Police Act 2009.
The Police Welfare Association president is further charged that he breached “routine force order did conduct yourself in a manner unbecoming to the office of the sergeant of Police by stating to wit ‘it must hit the news and hit it hard that the Police Welfare Association stormed the Prime Minister’s office for matters that are not being addressed”.
This charge is laid contrary to section 17 (1)(t) of Chapter 391/2009.
The fourth charge is that Smith breached “routine force order did conduct yourself in a mutinous behaviour by stating to ‘wit one of the thing I was thinking today, that we must be so angry that we must storm the Prime Minister’s office all executive members, no authority; we ain’t asking nobody permission to go we must go over dey”, contrary to section 17 910(d) chapter 301/2009.
The fifth charge is that Smith breached “routine force order you conduct yourself in a mutinous behaviour by stating to wit, ‘it must hit the news and hit it hard that the Police Welfare Association storm the Prime Minister’s Office for matters that are not being addressed’”, contrary to section 17(1)(d) chapter 391/2009.
Bruce said he will defend Smith in the proceedings, but said his client has no comments to make to the media on the matter, for fear that he will also be accused of violating the Police Force’s media policy.
The lawyer, in expressing his own view on the development, told iWitness News: “One would have thought that common sense would have prevailed and the leadership of the Police Force, having been given the opportunity to let the matter die a natural death, expecting that they would have taken the lifeline and probably be satisfied that they would have used as a punishment, which we consider to be improper, to transfer the officers. But, certainly, there are those who are not satisfied and they wish to push it further.”
Bruce said another of the three officers who were transferred after the development has been summoned to appear before the hierarchy of the police force.
“I anticipate that further charges will be laid tomorrow (Wednesday) against another officer because I am aware that another officer has been summoned, tomorrow, Wednesday the 16th [of August].
“I don’t want to speak out of turn so I shall wait to see if tomorrow if they will proceed to charge him and what those charges will be. I am also aware that the third officer who was involved has not received an invitation, so I presume that he will not be facing any of the similar internal charges.”
Asked about his outlook on the proceedings, Bruce told iWitness News, “This makes for interesting times ahead.”
After the voice notes were made public, Smith, a non-commissioned officer in-charge of Beat and Patrol was transferred to Union Island.
Constable Kenroy Martin was transferred to Chateaubelair and Constable Jeremain Roberts was transferred from the Port Authority to Owia.
Some members of the public have argued that the transfers are punishment for the discussion, which Commissioner of Police Renald Hadaway denied.
iWitness News was unsuccessful when it attempted to reach Hadaway by mobile phone late Tuesday afternoon for comment.
The police chief told iWitness News in July that the Police Force had not ruled out the possibility of criminal charges against the officers allegedly involved.
“From my vantage point, I am looking at internal sanctions at the moment, so to speak. However, I am not ruling out anything outside of that. As a matter of fact, I have sought legal advice on the whole issue and that, again, will inform the decision,” Hadaway said in a July 19 interview.
In the WhatsApp voice notes, the speakers complained about the absence of a fridge and a stove at a police station and the failure of the police chief to find out whether police officers riding on the back of police vehicles are insured.
Bruce had initially said that the use of the word storm was being misconstrued.
“It is my understanding that the use of the term storm the prime minister’s office was made with an understanding and appreciation that when we go to the prime minister’s office and we will be very forceful with what our representations are. And so that is the context in which it was said that they would storm the prime minister’s office,” he told iWitness News in July.