Tivoli residents may have been roughed up, says retired JDF officer
A former high-ranking member of the Jamaican military has admitted that members of the security forces might have roughed up residents of the west Kingston community of Tivoli Gardens during the May 2010 operations.
The admission by retired Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Sewell came after he was confronted with residents' accounts of some of the alleged atrocities committed by members of the joint police-military team who participated in the operations aimed at apprehending drug kingpin Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.
Testifying before the west Kingston commission of enquiry, Sewell acknowledged that a "majority" of the residents were instructed to vacate their homes and admitted that this could have been done "in a rough manner".
"Why would that be necessary?" chairman of the three-member commission Sir David Simmons questioned.
"I would offer that given the hostilities that faced the individuals [soldiers and police] in entering the community, the initial searches would not necessarily have been preceded by the fact that they knew that there were no persons armed with illegal weapons inside the houses they sought to have the persons [residents] come out of," Sewell explained.
"So are you saying to me that, having regard to what had been going on, the officers could have gone in there, in simple language, angry?" Simmons pressed.
"Mr Chairman, not angry. But put it in the context that it was not your usual drive on to a location, disembark the truck, put in a cordon in close proximity and then the police go in knocking on the door and searching," Sewell sought to explain.
"This was one wherein the community of Tivoli Gardens, on the 24th of May , was heavily barricaded and there was significant resistance in terms of the firing of weapons at the members of the JDF and the JCF [Jamaica Constabulary Force]," he continued.
The explanation came after Simmons recounted the testimony of several Tivoli Gardens residents of the alleged abuse they suffered or witnessed.
One of those residents was Lovette Bryan, who resided at Levy Path. According to her testimony, a group of soldiers, using expletives, asked her to unlock the grille to her high-rise apartment.
Bryan claimed she and the nine occupants of the house were taken to an abandoned house located on Chang Avenue and made to sit in a pool of water.
But while testifying that he was not aware of those specific allegations, Sewell said he could not "completely disagree" that the manner and tone in which residents were asked to vacate their homes "could have happened in the manner you described".
In earlier testimony, Sewell also revealed that he was "extremely surprised" when he heard, via media reports, the number of persons who died in the operations.
The commission has heard evidence that one day into the operation - which began on May 24, 2010 - there were 56 bodies at Madden's Funeral Home and 16 lying in the streets of Tivoli Gardens.
According to Sewell's testimony, most of Tivoli Gardens was under the control of the security forces by late afternoon on the 24th, to the extent that he was able to walk through the west Kingston community.
Responding to questions from attorney-at-law Lord Anthony Gifford, who is representing the Office of the Public Defender, Sewell said he saw no bodies in Tivoli Gardens on May 24 and only one the following day.