Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday says that a special prosecutor should be considered to review the allegation that a senator and a prosecutor were present when a Diamond Estate man was shot in the leg at his home on April 13.
The shooting victim, Cornelius John, a 60-year-old farmer and businessman has said that government senator, Ashelle Morgan, a lawyer who is also Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly, was among three persons who came to his house when he was shot.
Commissioner of Police Colin John has confirmed that Morgan, as well as Assistant Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Karim Nelson, are persons of interest in the investigation.
The identity of the third person who was allegedly present has not been disclosed.
John has alleged that he was kicked about his body, knocked to the ground, and shot in his leg by one of the two male assailants.
He said the second male expressed reservation about what had taken place, saying that he had not gone to John’s house for that.
The businessman further alleged that Morgan pushed a gun in his face and threatened to shoot him if he mentioned her name.
The alleged assailants then left John on the ground in his patio and police took him to hospital.
Almost two months after the incident, no one has been arrested or charged, and John and his lawyer, Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, have called for prosecution of the matter.
Nelson has gone on leave pending the outcome of the investigation, but Morgan has defied calls, including in Parliament, for her to do so.
At a New Democratic Party virtual press conference on Tuesday, the opposition leader, who is also a lawyer, noted the status of the persons of interest as well as policing and prosecutorial officials connected to the case and how this could affect public confidence in the handling of the case
The commissioner of police, a former assistant DDP and one of Nelson’s ex-colleagues, is heading the police force, which is handling the investigation.
Nelson is an assistant to DPP Sejilla McDowall, who has constitutional powers over all criminal prosecutions, public and private, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
“It may be the situation here that the DPP and the commissioner of police are too close to those mentioned in the allegations as possible assailants to pursue the matter in a way that would inspire confidence in the general public that they will be able to conduct a full impartial investigation, and prosecution if it comes to that, in this case,” Friday said.
“In other words, there may be a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest that might prevent them from pursuing the matter properly, and that might induce doubt and disbelief in the public about the performance of their duties.”
He said that when such circumstances arise in SVG or elsewhere, it is necessary to install other persons who are not affected by these concerns to conduct the investigation and, where necessary, the prosecution of the matter.
“If it is that the commissioner of police and the DPP cannot do their jobs because of a conflict of interest or other reason, then they must recuse themselves and other persons must be appointed to lead the investigation and any prosecution that might flow from that investigation.”
The opposition leader, however, said that at the very least, at this point, it is necessary for the police and the police chief, since he has spoken publicly on the investigation, to let the public know about its status.
“This cannot be treated as a hush-hush matter. What will people think? What would our citizens think here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines? What would people in the region, people looking in at us think if they get the impression that that is how it is being treated?
“We know what they are thinking now. They are thinking that not enough is being done to investigate and prosecute the matter, and they fear that not enough will be done in the future as well to ensure that the matter is properly investigated, that Mr. John gets justice and the people’s confidence in the criminal justice system and the rule of law is maintained or restored. “
Friday said that these are serious matters for everyone in SVG.
“This is why I said at the outset that this is a matter that transcends just the persons who are named in the allegations. This is a matter for all of us because it affects not just the individuals, as serious as it is for all of them, but it affects the rule of law, our adherence to that and casts inquiring eyes on our criminal justice system.”
The opposition leader said that SVG “cannot fail that test”, adding that adherence to the rule of law is fundamental to a modern democratic society.
“… that means that everybody is subject to the law equally and then that there is equality before the law so that no matter your position, lowly or in a high position, that you are treated the same way when you come before the system.”
Friday said that gun violence is a serious matter in SVG
He noted the recent incidents of gun violence in SVG, including the murder of senior national footballer Dwaine Sandy in Calliaqua on May 21, adding that other young people have died after being shot.
“So gun violence is very much a part or a major concern for the people of this country and anytime there is an incident that involves such, it must be taken seriously, it must be properly investigated and let the facts lead where the investigations go. And that should happen in all cases, not in some cases.”
He reiterated his call for the police chief and all others involved in handling the shooting case to “inform the public of where they are with the investigation and where they are going.
“It is the least that can be done to help to inspire confidence in the investigation. It may well be too late but it needs to be done and done right away.
“Confidence in the police and DPP is, essentially, confidence in our criminal justice system. It’s of paramount importance and the matter I have described above in the way they have been presented in the public undermines that confidence and it needs to stop and to be reversed,” Friday said.
On Wednesday, the commissioner of police told iWitness News that the DPP has issued “certain directives” regarding the investigation.
“The matter is still being investigated. I have had discussions with the office of the DPP who has issued certain directives. These directives have to be carried out, have to be followed and then further discussion and then the file returned to the DPP,” John told iWitness News.
He said that no arrest has been made nor have charges been laid in connection with the matter.