Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Editorial | A heavy coating of whitewash

Published:Thursday | August 10, 2017 | 8:05 AM

Fortuitously, the hearings of the commission of enquiry into the West Kingston operation were, but for a few sessions held in camera, televised. The public, therefore, not only had unfiltered access to the evidence, but could arrive at their own conclusions about the demeanour and truthfulness of witnesses.

This is important in the face of what the majority of Jamaica is likely to perceive as an attempt, even at this stage, to apply a heavy coating of calcium hydroxide whitewash to the police's action in the 2010 exercise, aimed at apprehending for extradition hearings, the notorious, politically aligned crime boss, Christopher Coke.

In the event, many people will equate the performance of this so-called administrative review committee to the late solicitor general, Ken Rattray's supposed evaluation, in the early 2000s, of the findings of Erwin Angus' committee into the management of a then big government shelter project, Operation PRIDE.

The Angus report found mismanagement, corruption and ministerial overreach in the scheme. The effect of Rattray's review, commissioned by the then Patterson administration, and couched in legal language, was to impeach key elements of Angus' findings and provide cover for some of the key actors in Operation PRIDE.

In the West Kingston matter, Coke's private militia, mostly holed up in the community of Tivoli Gardens, engaged the security forces in gun battles. At least 69 people, including a soldier, were killed in and around Tivoli Gardens.

An enquiry, chaired by distinguished Barbadian jurist and former chief justice, David Simmons, concluded, at least 20 of those deaths were likely to have been extrajudicial killings, with the most probable culprits being members of the police's rapid response unit, Mobile Reserve. The commission also questioned the operational competence of five senior police officers, who it recommended should never again be part of an internal security operation because of dereliction of duty, amounting to misconduct, during the operation.

The enquirers also lamented that the police hadn't, even at the time of their report, six years after the event, undertaken an internal review of the West Kingston operation. That, presumably, was the mandate of this seven-member team, three of whose members, including its ACP Wray Palmer, were police officers. Former Director of Public Prosecutions Kent Pantry was another of its members. The tone of muted hostility in their report aside, on almost nothing did they agree with the findings of the Simmons commission.

The operation plan and command structure, they concluded, was "appropriate for the task", as was the span of control command "clear ... and effective".

‘MATTER OF CONSCIENCE’

Although they didn't declare definitive on the allegations of extra-judicial killings, they said: "All weapons assigned to JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) officers ... were tested and ballistic certificates issued. All ballistic signatures from various weapons were compared against bullet fragments received from the bodies of deceased persons and no match was found."

As for the officers whose competence was questioned by the commissioners, the committee claimed on its examination of the evidence and the operation plan, there was "no basis" upon which it could cite any of them "for misconduct and/or dereliction of duty". Insofar as they criticised any action by the police, it was former head of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, Scotsman Les Green, for his purported lack of involvement in the operation and the absence of his bureau in post operation investigations. Greenamong several Britons who were recruited to help reform a force viewed as corrupt had an easy relationship with his colleagues during his time in Jamaica.

Significantly, too, the committee said it appeared to be "a matter of convenience" for the commissioners to accept evidence given by officers of the Jamaican Defence Force over that by policemen.

They did, however, recommend that for future of operations of the kind, the police should make and keep proper records of the exercise which was a complaint of the enquiry, particularly against the cited officers.