Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Editorial | Damaged reputations from flawed review

Published:Sunday | August 13, 2017 | 8:00 AM

These are their names: Wray Palmer, Kent Pantry, Hilton McDavid, Errol Johnson, Hartley Perrin. They had, as their legal counsel, Andrew Lewis and Wesley Watson, who, like Mr Palmer, the chairman, are senior police officers.

That's the group that conducted the internal administrative review, so-called, into conduct of the members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) during the 2010 security operation in west Kingston, aimed at arresting the crime boss and political strongman, Christopher Coke.

This group of hitherto respected Jamaicans will, unfortunately, suffer serious reputational damage for the intellectual contortions they managed in an attempt at impeaching the findings of the Simmons commission of enquiry into the operation and whitewashing the actions of the JCF.

The commission was chaired by former Barbados Chief Justice David Simmons, and included Hazel Harris, a former Jamaica appeal court judge; and respected academic, Professor Anthony Harriott. Among their findings was that at least 20 people, and perhaps more, of at least 69 who died during the operation, were "on a high balance of probabilities", victims of extrajudicial killings. Members of the police Mobile Reserve unit, they concluded, were the main culprits.

Of course, as a criminal matter, this conclusion would have been subject to further investigations, and guilt or innocence determined by a court of law. This notwithstanding, the police review board dismissed the commission's finding as "highly speculative", insisting that no credible evidence was adduced at the hearings to arrive at that position. To bolster their argument, Mr Palmer's board argued that none of the fragments of bullets retrieved from bodies of the people who died in the operation matched weapons assigned to police officers.

 

EYEWITNESS TESTIMONIES

 

This out-of-hand rejection of the commission's findings ignores, or fails to acknowledge - conveniently perhaps - two other important facts. One is that the commissioners arrived at their conclusion partly on the evidence of eyewitnesses who were deemed to be credible. Two of these witnesses were soldiers who testified to seeing the same policeman, his faced covered by a balaclava, killing three unarmed young men in two incidents. Further, the matter of ballistic reports is not a fully resolved issue in the west Kingston case.

The west Kingston commissioners also cited five police officers, some of whom subsequently received promotions or were transferred laterally, for operational and administrative incompetence and accused for dereliction of duty during the operation. Among the breaches the commission cited was the failure of top officers to ensure that records were kept, and secured, of where bodies were collected in the zone of operation.

The review, however, found that there was "no basis" for the adverse findings against the police officers and argued that the collection of bodies, securing the scenes and maintaining records would have been problematic, given that the environment was unsafe. That claim was despite evidence by Jamaica Defence Force officers that they had pacified Coke's militia and secured the area before the policemen went in. Fortuitously, too, a policeman, who was reportedly tasked with keeping records, died in a car crash months after the operation. But even before then, no one apparently had acquired and secured his notes.

The review group excoriated Les Green, the Briton, who, at the time, led the Criminal Investigation Branch, ostensibly for failing to take charge of the investigation - an argument undercut by Mr Green's explanation that at the time, investigation of homicides by police officers was the remit of the Bureau of Special Investigation, as specifically given that responsibility in the west Kingston affair.

But as Mr Green pointed out, it is the responsibility of all police officers, no matter the unit or division, "to make appropriate reports and records of relevant activity and to retain those in line with standard JCF procedures".