The claim by a suspended police officer that the nation’s police chief and police officers beat him last month will not be investigated.
So said Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on Thursday in Parliament in response to a question from the opposition.
Acting Commissioner of Police, Colin John, has denied beating suspended constable Ettian Charles or seeing anyone else do so when Charles was arrested in September.
Charles was among a number of persons taken into custody shortly after the Sept. 19 armed robbery of Resha Twana Browne-Caesar, wife of Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar at their Cedars home.
Charles was suspended from duty in July 2017 after he was charged with burglarising the Postal Corporation in Kingstown and stealing items and cash worth some EC$100,000.
Since the Sept. 19 robbery of Browne-Caesar, Charles has been slapped with a number of charges including robbery, possession of an illegal firearm, and murder.
In a court appearance last month, the accused man told Senior Magistrate, Rickie Burnett that John and other officers had beaten him while he was in custody.
During Thursday’s meeting of Parliament, Member of Parliament for the Southern Grenadines, Terrance Ollivierre read on behalf of opposition senator Marcia “Zita” Barnwell who was absent, a question she had submitted about the allegation.
Barnwell’s question called on Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security, Justice and Legal Affairs, to say whether he is concerned about Charles’ allegations against the police chief and whether the prime minister would ensure that an investigation into the matter is conducted.
Reaffirmation of constitutional rights
In response, Gonsalves said he wanted to reaffirm the commitment of his government to the fundamental rights and freedom of all persons as detailed in the constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and as supported by statute law, case law and international conventions.
“We must not, however, having acknowledged that and having reaffirmed that as being fundamental to our democracy and our regime of individual rights and freedoms that every time an allegation is made, that, on the face of it, we are tempted to accept that allegation.”
Gonsalves said he happens to be “of a school where we believe facts are sacred and we investigate things and see what are the facts”.
He said the senator had noted Charles’ allegation that the police commissioner beat him.
“But it is equally important for it to be stated and ought to have been stated in the question that the commissioner denied also, publicly, that he never beat this gentleman. And more than that, he said that he did not see anyone beat him…
“But when a question is posed with only the allegation, that the person was beaten but the parliamentarian doesn’t say that the commissioner denied it, one, without more, may come to the conclusion there is a preference in believing the allegation by this gentleman who, parenthetically, he is a policeman on suspension who was charged with one offence while he was on suspension,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs.
He noted that Charles was charged with burglary resulting in his suspension and subsequently with robbery and murder.
“But yet, that view is presented as though it’s the truth. I state what I reaffirm so I am not going to say that I am concerned that somebody says that,” Gonsalves said.
He told Parliament that he proclaims “the reaffirmation of the fundamental rights and freedoms but those who want to go and believe persons in those circumstances and not to believe the commissioner — I am not saying you should believe any of them but those appear as though you’re believing one as against the other.
Responding to some cross talk, Gonsalves said:
“I can tell you emphatically that we’re not going to do an investigation. This gentleman has his procedural rights under the Constitution and under the law of this country. He can sue.”
The prime minister further added that House Speaker, Jomo Thomas, in his capacity as a lawyer had sued successfully three policemen who had been found guilty for beating a young man.
Thomas is not involved in the current case but was in court during the arraignment of the men, who appeared before Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett with puffy and bloodshot eyes.
The lawyer, in his weekly newspaper column in The Vincentian newspaper, noted that the court had not made any inquiries about the cause of the men’s injuries.
Thomas, in the piece, “The soul of SVG is at stake“, argued — as Benjamin Franklyn, one of the founding fathers of the United States did — that those willing to surrender essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
The former senator and candidate for Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party said:
“What is even more frightening in this regard is that accused persons show up in court with puffy faces, bloodshot eyes, swollen and broken limbs, and the Magistrates do not even bat an eye. There is no legal explanation for the failure of a judicial officer to forcefully inquire why an accused person is swollen and bloodied. Only callous disregard for a fellow human being explains this reality. And it happens far too frequently in our courts. If there is one place an accused person should feel safe, is in the courts. Instead, we frequently hear police, magistrates and judges shout at and insult accused persons and prisoners.”
Complain to the police PR arm?
Regarding Charles’ allegations, Gonsalves said he didn’t know if a formal complaint had been made, adding that if this is done, the Director of Public Prosecution would determine whether the police chief or anyone else should be charged.
“But, as far as I know, that has not been done. Or if you don’t want to go that way where you feel because is the police investigating and going to the DPP that you may have a problem proving beyond reasonable doubt and that you may wish to go civilly.”
But if Charles were to complain, he would have to lodge that complaint with an arm of the police force that handles both complaints and public relations for the constabulary.
Thomas, in a commentary on Xtreme FM last week called the Police Public Relations and Complaints Department an oxymoron.
The police chief, in comments on Boom FM said that there is merit in Thomas’ comments that the departments should be delinked.
He, however, noted that police officers have been prosecuted based on complaints made to the same department.
Civil suit option
And, Gonsalves told Parliament that Charles can instruct a lawyer to bring a civil suit, where the bar is lower, in that he would have to prove his case only on a balance of probabilities.
“The burden, still of proof, but a lower standard of proof because then it would be a civil case for damages as distinct from a criminal one,” Gonsalves said.
“But there is nothing before me that suggests that there should be an investigation.”
Gonsalves reiterated that he has repeatedly said that when the police meet “a hardened, seasoned criminal and they go to arrest that person, there is not an obligation on the part of the police to recite to that person the beatitudes.
“I say they must carry out their work firmly but within the framework of the law. And clearly, from what I have said here, if the person were to resist, they act in accordance with the law and they have to act reasonably.
“For instance, if a fella comes to you when you are arresting him and he cuff you, it is not reasonable for you to take your gun and kill him.
“You may give him two cuff; you may reduce him into submission. But if he comes to you with a loaded gun, well, in those circumstances, flight is not your option, you respond reasonably.”
He said everyone would hear the manner in which he spoke about the rights of an individual which must be protected.
“I don’t support police beating anybody,” he said, adding that if a police officer gets a confession during a beating and the statement is struck out in court because it is tainted, the beating and resulting statement doesn’t serve any good purpose.
“So I don’t encourage any policeman to beat anybody. But that doesn’t say that when a man gets up and says the police beat me that I must believe that person without more. And it doesn’t mean that I must go and carry out an investigation.”
Gonsalves further told Parliament:
“The commissioner has communicated to me in relation to this allegation and he has answered in the manner in which he has answered in the public. And as is said here, every allegation that is brought to the attention of the prime minister is investigated. This incident is no exception.
“Would you expect me to set up a public investigation? Because this gentleman can contact any lawyer in the country to have his rights affirmed and reaffirmed through the appropriate processes.”