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Former commish says cops operated within rules in 2010 operation

Published:Saturday | February 21, 2015 | 2:00 AMLivern Barrett

Former Police Commissioner Owen Ellington has revealed that up to mid-2011 when three-quarters of the firearms used by the security forces during the 2010 Tivoli Gardens incursion were put through ballistics tests, none of them matched any of the projectiles recovered from the bodies of those killed in the operations.

Ellington, who was testifying for a second day before the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry yesterday, used the information to dismiss questions raised by the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) about possible extrajudicial killings during the May 2010 operation to apprehend then fugitive Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

He revealed that in the aftermath of the three-day operation, in which the OPD claims 76 civilians and one soldier were killed, he charged the Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI), headed by Assistant Commissioner Granville Gause, with the responsibility of conducting a criminal probe.

"Up to the time when the head of the Bureau of Special Investigations last briefed me [in mid-2011] on his investigations, which were being conducted into all deaths and use-of-force incidents, nothing was reported to him that members of the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) or members of the JDF (Jamaica Defence Force) were involved in this kind of conduct (extrajudicial killings)," the retired police commissioner testified.

In addition, he noted that by this time, 75 per cent of the weapons used by police personnel had already been subjected to ballistics testing and that investigators attached to the BSI had collected "quite a number of statements" from witnesses, but he told the commission that Gause informed him at the time that none of those statements identified any policeman "as being involved in any killing in the area of operations".

Ellington said the BSI has since turned over all its files to the Independent Commission of Investigations, the police oversight body that took over the probe in 2011.

 

NOATTEMPTS TO CONCEAL BODIES

 

Ellington also dismissed allegations made by the OPD that members of the security forces engaged in actions designed to conceal from investigators bodies recovered in Tivoli Gardens that had close-range or close-contact gunshot wounds.

"The JCF denies any such claim by the public defender. There is no evidence to support the claim that the security forces tampered with bodies," Ellington testified.

Despite claims by some Tivoli Gardens residents that members of the security forces wore masks and used various materials to conceal their faces, Ellington insisted that there is no evidence of this.

He told the commission he did not authorise any member of the JCF to wear a mask during the operations, and "to the best of our knowledge and belief, none of the members of the security forces wore masks or otherwise used them during the operations".

His response drew the intervention of the chairman of the commission, Sir David Simmons, who highlighted that the three-member panel already had "a substantial body of evidence" that some members of the security forces used masks and other materials to conceal their faces during the operation.

"In light of that, are you still standing on this assertion?" Simmons questioned.

"Based on the reports which were presented to me - and which I believe to be true - the officers who participated in the operations operated within the rules," Ellington replied.

 

ESCAPE TUNNEL

 

The former police chief also told the enquiry that Coke may have used tunnels in his Tivoli Gardens stronghold to escape the security forces when they went there to apprehend him in 2010.

He said investigators have theorised that Coke made his escape through tunnels that took him through the community of Hannah Town.

However, Ellington made it clear that this was a theory and that no one had come forward to give a statement about this.

"But we believe this theory is credible," Ellington testified, noting that investigators had traversed the tunnels Coke is believed to have used.

The former police chief said given the fierce firefight between thugs sympathetic to Coke and members of the security forces, it would have been easy for anyone, including Coke, to escape the west Kingston community.

The commission takes a six-week break and will resume on April 7.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com