Vendors got no warning, senior cop suggests to West Kgn Commission
A high-ranking member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has revealed that as members of the security forces took up positions in a section of the Coronation Market moments before their incursion into the west Kingston community of Tivoli Gardens he was not aware of any warning to vendors and civilians to evacuate the facility.
As it turned out, Deputy Commissioner Glenmore Hinds told the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry that members of the JCF soon "came under sustained fire" inside the market from criminals positioned atop high-rise buildings in Tivoli Gardens.
"In fact, the market was set afire with them inside there," Hinds recalled.
His testimony triggered an exchange with Chairman of the three-member panel Sir David Simmons, who quizzed him about the efforts of the security forces to safeguard vendors.
"Vendors were not in the market during the exchanges of gunfire?" Simmons questioned.
"If they were, they would not be at the section of the market that was being used by the troops or that was hit," the senior police officer responded.
"So do you know whether the security forces instructed that the market be cleared of vendors before they went into what was going to become a zone of gunfire?" Simmons pressed.
"I am not aware that we gave any such instructions," Hinds responded.
"Wow," the commission chairman remarked. "So you mean that the security forces may have gone in there with people selling all kinds of produce all around... you want me to be believe that?" the former Barbados chief justice continued.
Hinds, who had earlier testify that the operations took into consideration the JCF's human rights and use-of-force policies, sought to explain that the gunfire was far removed from the main market area and that the incident occurred on a public holiday - Labour Day - when only a handful of vendors would be in the market.
In addition, he said heightened tensions in the area in the days leading up to the operations had kept many vendors away from the market district.
But that response did not satisfy Simmons, who noted that Hinds helped to develop the operational plan that guided the May 2010 incursion.
"I'm only probing the guts of it now... since you had all these things about taking into account human rights and this and that... you would have cleared out the human beings in there and say 'get out, we are taking over this' or in your own interest won't you please get out," he underscored.
Responding to questions from one of the attorneys for the JCF, Valerie Neita-Robertson, Hinds revealed that he was not aware of any plans to use Coronation Market during the operations and said that's the reason it was not evacuated.
The West Kingston Commission of Enquiry was established to, among other things, probe the conduct of the security forces during the operations which were aimed at capturing drug kingpin Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.
Seeking to provide a glimpse into Coke's criminal enterprise, Hinds, a former head of the JCF's intelligence machinery, testified that the imprisoned drug kingpin was "regarded as the pre-eminent don in Jamaica."
"He was the don of all dons. He led a large criminal organisation that had connections in other sections of the Corporate Area, other areas of Jamaica as well as in North America and the United Kingdom," the senior police officer testified.
He said Coke operated as a kind of surrogate government and his influence was such that he took on the name 'President' while his girlfriend was referred to as 'First Lady'.
In addition, he said Coke had his own criminal justice system.
"Mr Coke was the superior court judge... He was judge, jury and he had persons that executed the sentence. This would involve physical assault... a broken hand, a shot in the foot or wherever, depending on the nature of the crime and the punishment handed down," Hinds testified.
He said in the days leading up to the police-military operations to arrest Coke, the former Tivoli Gardens strongman offered thugs from communities within and outside west Kingston upwards of $30,000 each to help fight off the security forces.
The result, Hinds said, was that in the days leading up to the operations criminals carrying high-powered rifles began assembling in Tivoli Gardens from communities in Kingston, St Andrew, St Catherine, Clarendon and St James.
He will continue giving evidence today.