Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Peter Espeut | Holding the police to account

Published:Friday | July 8, 2016 | 7:00 AMPeter Espeut

 

My wife, Velia, is the campus minister (chaplain) and a guidance counsellor at Alpha Academy; She and the school community were in shock last week when one of their second-form leaders travelling in a 'robot' taxi on the way to school was shot in the head and seriously injured.

Onlookers identified the gunmen as members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), but the police quickly denied that any of their members were involved. Subsequent investigations by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) have led to the arrest of five members of the Mobile Reserve of the JCF, who are to face an identification parade before being charged. At least one cop has been identified.

If the perpetrators are indeed policemen, their behaviour is strange, indeed. If these policemen are identified as being the culprits, I wonder with what offences they will be charged?

The allegation is that 'dem bad-drive' the robot taxi, and received a few choice Jamaican expletives in return. Will the policemen be charged with reckless, careless, or dangerous driving? More than likely, the taxi driver will be charged with the use of indecent language.

It is alleged that they ordered the taxi driver to stop, and when he did not, they opened fire on the taxi filled with students going to school, hitting the Alpha second-former in the head. Since the alleged policemen were not under attack, to shoot at the taxi full of innocent children is a breach of the JCF use-of-force policy. Will they be charged with use of excessive force? Or will they be charged with the unlawful discharge of a firearm in a public place? Or will they be charged with shooting with intent, or attempted murder?

I distinctly remember the sad case of Michael Gayle, a mentally challenged young man who was beaten to death in the Olympic Gardens Police Station in 1999. The director of public prosecutions ruled that no one could be criminally charged for Gayle's death, since it could not be determined who struck the fatal blow.

It seemed to me at the time that all the policemen are guilty as accessories, and they should all face the lesser charge. All of those policemen got off scot-free! In those days, DPPs seemed unwilling to make policemen accountable for extra-judicial killings.

In the case of the Alpha second-former, are the authorities going to be able to identify which of the five policemen fired the shot? Or will they all be charged? Is it too late for Michel Gayle to get justice?

After the shooting, the robot taxi driver rushed the little girl to the Kingston Public Hospital. Where were the five policemen then? Were they concerned about the welfare of the Alpha student? Why did the five not chase the taxicab to the hospital to make an arrest? Or at least to make sure the girl was swiftly attended to?

Are they guilty of dereliction of duty? And of flight from the scene of a shooting? Of going into hiding? It seems to me that all five would be implicated in the above, and should be equally charged. The other four should have immediately attended the nearest police station to report the shooting, and, being witnesses, should have arrested their colleague for shooting the little girl. Is this not obstruction of justice?

If a member of the public had fired into a taxicab hitting a student, would the police be as lenient with him as they are being with their own? Do we have one law for the police and one for the rest of us?

This sort of thing has happened before. In 2012, a fifth-form student at Immaculate Conception High School was shot and killed by the police who fired into a car in which she was a passenger. Four years later, the case is still to come to trial.

I am not in favour of the death penalty - under any circumstances - but I can't forget that when Parliament passed the law distinguishing capital murder from non-capital murder, MPs from both political parties agreed that policemen who commit murder during the execution of their duties shall not face the death penalty. The State does not wish ever to execute policemen for murder.

I believe that public servants who let us down and betray the public trust should be treated more harshly, rather than more leniently.

But that won't bring back the Immaculate fifth-former, or undo the damage to the little Alpha second-former.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.