Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Jailbreak injustice? - Four rank-and-file cops still suspended without pay eight months after prisoners escaped from Denham Town lock-up

Published:Sunday | May 21, 2017 | 5:00 AMRyon Jones
The entrance to the Denham Town Police Station.
The entrance to the Denham Town Police Station.
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Eight months after they were suspended without pay following a jailbreak at the Denham Town Police Station, four junior cops remain in limbo awaiting a decision on their fate.

On September 18, 2016, nine prisoners escaped from the lock-up in the wee hours of the morning by cutting a ventilation grille in their cell. This was the fourth jailbreak from the west Kingston-based police lock-up since 2014.

Two district constables, a constable and a corporal who were on duty at the lock-up at the time of the breakout were subsequently suspended without pay and barred from travelling abroad pending the conclusion of investigations.

Those investigations were carried out by the Inspectorate Branch of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), and a file sent to the director of public prosecutions (DPP).

According to DPP Paula Llewellyn, the file was sent back to the inspectorate on April 19, 2017.

"Recommendations were made. They (the police) don't have to act upon it, but in practice they usually act on it. But it is entirely at their discretion," Llewellyn told The Sunday Gleaner recently.

Assistant Commissioner Wray Palmer, who heads the Inspectorate Branch of the JCF, last week acknowledged receiving the file containing the DPP's recommendations, but said the fate of the four cops now rests in the hands of recently appointed police commissioner, George Quallo.

"We carried out the investigations and sent the file to the DPP for some advice, which we got. I have sent the file to the commissioner with the DPP's recommendations, so he will now decide what course of action should be taken.

"The people who investigated it (jailbreak) will be called to give evidence at some point, but it wouldn't happen so early as there is a process which has to be undertaken," said Palmer.

 

MONEY ALLEGATIONS

 

But while the four junior cops wait to find out their fate, questions are being asked inside the force as to why no senior member has faced disciplinary action amid allegations of a large sum of money having been paid to facilitate the escape.

According to Sunday Gleaner sources, US$10,000 was paid by persons close to one of the escapees, with the other eight men being beneficiaries of the plot, and the four suspended cops were not part of the plot, and were not given any portion of the money.

"That allegation of the money was raised but we did not find the evidence to substantiate it," said Palmer, as he responded to claims that information about the payment was on the streets of downtown Kingston two days before the jailbreak.

The sources, however, are adamant that news that the money had been paid and that cutting tools were inside the cell was shared with a police sergeant two days before the escape by a confidential informant.

Eight of the escapees have since been accounted for, with one killed by the police and seven recaptured. However, 26-year-old Kevin Thomas, otherwise called 'Tatan', of McKenzie Drive, Tivoli Gardens, who was on a murder charge, remains at large.

According to the sources, Thomas fled the island a few hours after he broke out of the jail cell.

But head of the Kingston Western Police Division where the lock-up is located, Superintendent Howard Chambers, said the cops do not believe Thomas left the island and they expect to nab him before long.

"We have one or two sightings and we are narrowing down on that ninth person (Thomas)," Chambers told The Sunday Gleaner.

According to Chambers, the lock-up has since been fortified, but the question still remains as to how "cutting implements reached in the cell". And why only junior members of the force have so far faced disciplinary action?

Palmer was only able to offer an answer to the latter question.

"They had the primary responsibility to see to it that the men were in custody. They should have kept the doors locked, they should have prevented them from cutting anywhere to come out; they should have done some primary things," said Palmer.

"The investigation looked at everything. It looked at command, the patrol and the people who were there at the primary points. The persons who were there on duty, they can't refuse any responsibility," said Palmer.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com