By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” June 11, 2021)
The state of St Vincent and the Grenadines irreparably damaged Jemark “Parch Nut” Jackson. The streets finally took him. Last Friday, at Campden Park, an unknown assailant pumped three bullets into Jackson’s gangly frame, thus bringing to an untimely end the life of a young man who deserved a better deal in society.
Blame the Police Service Commission for concluding that Jackson’s life was so expendable that the police officers, who almost murdered him when they beat him into a coma, were more critical to policing in SVG than the life of a citizen, due process and justice.
Blame the Attorney General and the coterie of lawyers who work there for pussyfooting with Jemark Jackson’s civil claim, which could have brought him a settlement for the severe injuries he suffered at the hands of police officers working under the colour of law.
Most of all, blame the Ralph Gonsalves led administration for condemning Jemark Jackson to a life of crime and violence.
Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008 turned out to be a fateful day in the life of Jemark Jackson. The events of that day and night changed his life for the worse and created quite a stir in SVG.
The criminal trial record of the police officers shows that Jackson and a friend, Kimron Mc Dowall, were arrested by officers Ballantyne and Charles. At the time of their arrest, they were sitting on a wall at Victoria Park just outside what was then the JP Eustace Secondary School.
The officers scuffled the boys, 14 and 15 years at the time, and forced them into a police vehicle. Mc Dowall started to cry, and an officer punched him in the chest and told him to shut up. The officers took the boys to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), where the police squeezed their necks and led them down a corridor. Jackson and Mc Dowall were told to sit, and an officer told them, “Ah feel to shoot allyo.” One officer slapped Jackson, and another punched him in the neck.
Mc Dowall was savagely smacked across his head, causing blood to ooze from his ears. Jackson and Mc Dowall were told to wait until dark. They were falsely accused of being part of a gang. The officers chided Jackson for refusing to lie during a trial.
During the night, officers beat the boys with a hose at the CID. Jackson, who tried to fend off the blows, had his finger busted. Next, Jackson was made to lie on a bench, and an officer beat him with a rubber hose. Then two officers lifted him by his hands and feet and dropped him to the floor twice. While on the floor, an officer kicked him in his stomach.
Mc Dowall innocently asked the officers, “Why are you doing him so?” In response, an officer struck Mc Dowall with his gun in the back of the head, knocking him out cold. Two officers rushed Mc Dowall to the bathroom and poured water on his face to revive him. The beating of the boys continued while other officers at CID watched and laughed. Some years after this incident, Mc Dowall disappeared without a trace and is feared dead.
After the police administered the beating, the boys were taken to a holding cell where Jackson fell asleep. Jackson was awakened by severe pain in his chest. He asked to be taken to the hospital but was beaten again. Jackson started to vomit, and a female officer advised the officers to take him to the hospital.
X-rays showed that Jackson was suffering from internal bleeding. The following morning he fell into a coma and remained unconscious for seven of the 13 days spent at the hospital. The police high command panicked because they thought Jackson was going to die. A doctor testifying at Jackson’s trial said that his injuries were akin to those suffered by someone who fell from a helicopter.
DPP Colin Williams was incensed with the ill-treatment of the young boys. Four officers were charged for the assault, and DPP Williams personally prosecuted the case. They were convicted and fined EC$1,500 each. PM Gonsalves hired his friend, Barbadian Queen’s Counsel Richard Cheltenham, to defend the rogue cops in their appeal. The Court of Appeal upheld the conviction of the officers.
Lo and behold, Gonsalves government rehired the convicted officers disregarding the loud cry among the people for the officers to be dismissed and jailed. Yet, all of them continue to work in criminal investigation.
On Nov. 17, 2009, Jackson’s lawyer filed a civil claim on his behalf. Jackson was seeking compensation for the severe injuries he sustained at the hands of the criminal police officers.
He asked the court to award him damages for:
3. False imprisonment
4. Wrongful arrest
5. Unlawful detention
6. Aggravated damages
It is more than 12 years since police officers mercilessly beat Jackson to within a breath of life. The state has refused to settle this case. It applied to have the case struck out and failed. It has stonewalled and used delaying tactics. Gonsalves’ Ministry of Justice insisted on going to trial. They claim Jackson’s vomiting and coma were induced by medication and not caused by police excessive force and brutality.
Over these years, the AG’s chambers took the view that Jackson is a common criminal who deserves no compensation. Unfortunately, they conveniently forget that Jackson was a 14-year-old boy without a criminal record at the time of the beating.
Finally, Jackson’s sad ending should be placed squarely at the feet of Ralph Gonsalves and his administration.
They have shown a callous disregard for the human rights of this young man as well as the quest for justice.
Imagine a different ending for Jemark Jackson if the Gonsalves administration had done the decent thing and settled the case. Such an outcome may have radically altered Jackson’s life chances. An adequate and proper compensation package would have allowed Jackson to live a comfortable life away from crime.
The system willfully failed Jemark Jackson. Now, it can grin remorselessly at his tragic ending.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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