Fri | Apr 28, 2017

Tivoli death toll could have been much higher - Ellington

Published:Tuesday | April 21, 2015 | 4:00 AMLivern Barrett
Ellington

Former Police Commissioner Owen Ellington has testified that a risk assessment conducted before the May 2010 police-military operations in Tivoli Gardens suggested that the death toll "could have been much higher".

Ellington, who was giving evidence before the West Kingston commission of enquiry yesterday, said this was based on police estimates that as many as 300 armed criminals had assembled in Tivoli Gardens to resist attempts by the security forces to arrest then fugitive Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

"Assuming all of them remained in there and fought with the security forces to the end, then the numbers could have been much higher than they were ... and not just on the side of the irregulars, but more of our members would have been killed as well," he said.

According to a report by the Office of the Public Defender, 76 civilians and one member of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) were killed during the operations.

Ellington told the commission that four policemen were killed and more than 40 others shot and injured as part of the coordinated attacks to block Coke's capture.

"It requires a little time away to really calculate what the ultimate casualty count would have been," the retired police chief said.

Tivoli "blood price"

He was responding to a question from Professor Anthony Harriott - one of the three commissioners - as to whether the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) had done an estimation of the "blood price" to be paid for entering Coke's west Kingston stronghold.

Pointing to other deadly confrontations between the police and thugs in Tivoli Gardens, Ellington said the operations of May 2010 gave Jamaicans a chance to see what the police have had to deal with "all along".

"The events of May 2010, tragic as they were, gave the Jamaican public an opportunity to see for themselves what was there [in Tivoli Gardens] all along ... what the police was telling the country all along, which nobody cared to believe," he testified.

"But because it tended now to threaten the status quo, there was overwhelming public support and approval for us to go in and resolve the problem," Ellington continued.

Responding to a question from chairman of the commission, Sir David Simmons, on whether the police had abdicated their responsibility to the west Kingston community, the former police commissioner said prior to this, the JCF was "never able to convince the public that our mission in there was legitimate".

"And because of that public perception challenge, officers took the decision to avoid confrontation. [So] rather than saying we are abdicating our responsibility, [the officers just say] let us just avoid the confrontation because this country doesn't understand what we are dealing with," he underscored.

Ellington also conceded that the Jamaican police did not explore the possibility of filing criminal charges against Coke.

In addition, he testified that the JCF did not seek guidance from the director of public prosecutions on whether the convicted drug kingpin could have been arrested and charged locally for the same offences to which he pleaded guilty in the United States.

Ellington's evidence came as the public hearings resumed after several days of in-camera hearings on whether a number of documents should be shielded by public-interest immunity.

The commission is looking into the May 2010 police-military operations aimed at arresting Coke, who has since pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in the US and is now serving a 23-year prison sentence.

Testifying during cross-examination yesterday, the retired police commissioner acknowledged that entering into a conspiracy to export drugs out of the country was an offence in Jamaica, but insisted that he was not aware of the allegations against Coke.

He said he only became aware of the allegations through media reports.

The retired police chief will continue giving evidence today.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com