The coroner’s inquest touching and concerning the deaths of a police officer and a civilian who died after being shot in Campden Park on April 26, 2020 will have to start afresh.
District 1 Coroner, Rickie Burnett, made the announcement to the families of the two deceased men on Friday, at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court.
The inquest began some months ago, but was adjourned repeatedly after a member of the five-member jury fell ill and has been on extended sick leave.
The inquest was being held to examine the deaths of Gleason Lewis, 36, who police say they shot and killed at his Campden Park home after he shot detective Sergeant Philbert Chambers, 30, and injured Police Constable 700 Verrol Sam, who were among officers executing a search warrant at Lewis’ home.
On Friday, Burnett apologised to Chambers’ family, who he said he understood was only informed of the sitting of the inquest that morning.
Burnett said he had taken steps to inform both families but got information that the Chambers family had received very short notice.
He apologised on behalf of the department of the Magistracy, adding that the late information was no fault of his.
“As you would recall, sometime ago, a five-member jury was empanelled, and we commenced this inquest. We are quite advanced but we were unable to resume,” Burnett then said.
“And that is so because, if you observe, we have four members, not five because it means that one member of the jury is absent.”
He said that information had reached him some time ago that a member of the jury is not well and has been on extended sick leave for a period of time and was unable to resume her duties as a juror.
“Discussions were held as to whether we can continue with four members and based on the interpretation of the statute, it was determined that that was not possible,” Burnett said.
“So, we have that problem — that major, major problem and, additionally, and importantly as well, I am to commence my vacation leave on Monday.”
He said that, generally, when one goes on vacation, “unless certain things happen, he or she is likely to resume duties.
“However, it appears as though I may not resume duties after my leave and because of that I may not be able to complete this inquest.”
Reports are that Burnett is being considered for appointment as a High Court judge.
He told the inquest that he had discussed the matter of the inquest with Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne, who is the administrative head of the department.
“… I am sure that steps will be taken to make sure that this inquest will be disposed of by a coroner,” Burnett said, adding that he has taken the opportunity to call the families and inform the jury as well of the development.
Burnett said that because he was unsure of when the juror would be available and because he might not hold the post of coroner, he had to discharge the jury.
He said that in doing so, another coroner can take over and he or she would decide how to manage the process.
“I understand the feelings of the families in this matter but these things are outside of our control,” Burnett said, adding that sickness is unpredictable.
Burnett then asked both the Chambers and Lewis families if they had anything to say.
Glasley Lewis, Gleason’s father, took to the dock and told the coroner his lawyer Kay Bacchus-Baptiste had asked him to remind the coroner to make the notes of evidence of the proceeding available to her.
“I said I will look into it. I did not say I will do it. If it can be done, I will do it. If it cannot be done, I will tell her it cannot be done,” Burnett said.
Chambers’ mother, Elma Bobb, speaking on behalf of her family, told the court she understood the development in the inquest.
“It is just the nature of life. We can’t predict these things,” Burnett said and thanked the families for attending.
“I am sure that the police and the department will be in touch with the family to tell you when this inquest will resume or when it will commence.”
He also thanked the jury, on behalf of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, for their participation in the process and expressed hope that if they are summoned again, they will respond and serve their nation.
This was the second coroner’s jury that Burnett discharged on Friday.
Earlier, he discharged the jury in the inquest touching and concerning the death of Cjea Weekes, without any evidence being given.
Weekes, an 18-year-old motorcyclist, of Argyle, died at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital on Feb. 6, 2022, four days after suffering paralysing injuries while police in an SUV pursued him from Questelles to Twenty Hill as he rode his motorcycle.
Burnett said that by discharging the jury, a new coroner would better decide whether to hear the matter alone or to empanel a jury to hear the evidence.