Thu | Apr 2, 2020

Jailed a year for ghost gun - Elderly man spends 12 months behind bars, but video evidence reveals inconsistencies in cops’ account of the arrest

Published:Sunday | February 9, 2020 | 12:35 AMLivern Barrett - Senior Staff Reporter

An elderly man who languished in jail for a year on gun-related charges has been set free after a video recording obtained by investigators raised a number of red flags about the police account of his arrest.

Investigators have indicated, too, that the footage appears to support a claim by 63-year-old Leroy Laud that cops significantly under-reported the amount of ganja found in his car during a traffic stop in Ocho Rios, St Ann, in 2017.

The traffic stop was captured by a closed-circuit television system installed at a businessplace near the scene of the arrest and turned over to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM).

Laud, a taxi operator who resides in St Mary, was taken into custody on July 27, 2017, after he led a team of police on a wild chase through the streets of Ocho Rios before he was cornered in a shopping plaza in Bucksfield, law-enforcement sources and court documents obtained by The Sunday Gleaner have revealed.

The documents include an entry in a police station diary the following day, which detailed the police’s account of the arrest, but made no reference to any gunfire.

It indicated also that Laud had been charged with possession of, dealing in and trafficking ganja, as well as dangerous driving.

The taxi operator admitted, during an interview, that his Toyota Probox motor car was loaded with 14 plastic bags of ganja weighing approximately 129 pounds.

The video recording, a copy of which was obtained by The Sunday Gleaner, shows several bags stashed on top of each other at the back of the car after a policeman opens the trunk. Minutes later, it shows one of the cops driving away the Probox with the bags still inside.

In the video, all four men returned to the plaza several minutes later in the same vehicles in which they departed.

But, according to Laud’s attorney, Gaunique Williams, only 30 pounds of ganja was presented a week later when her client pleaded guilty to the drug charges. He was sentenced to two months in prison and a fine of $169,000.

Denyelle Anderson, senior public relations officer at INDECOM, confirmed that its investigators are in possession of the video and are “aware of a discrepancy in terms of the amount that was in the vehicle and what was reported”.

Anderson indicated that the criminal investigation is at an advanced stage, but said months after the incident the oversight body recommended to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) that two of the cops involved should face internal disciplinary action.

“We have not received any feedback about that recommendation to date,” she said, noting that the other cop had already resigned.

The documents obtained by The Sunday Gleaner indicated that, two days after the drug arrest and amid word of a probe by INDECOM, a second entry was made in the station diary about Laud’s arrest.

“Constable [name withheld] arrested and placed in safe custody male Jamaican Leroy Laud, 61-year-old taxi operator of Frontier, St Mary, for reasonable suspicion of shooting with intent committed on (Saturday) Thursday, July 27, 2017 about 10 p.m. at Square One Plaza in Ocho Rios, St Ann,” the entry read.

Laud was formally charged for illegal possession of firearm and shooting with intent and spent 12 months in jail awaiting trial. The charges were based on claims by the three cops involved in the traffic stop that they twice came under gunfire from a male passenger during a chase of his car.

The three policemen – a corporal and two constables – acknowledged that they fired at the Probox because they feared for their safety, but said the gunman managed to escape before Laud’s vehicle came to a halt inside Square One Plaza.

The 63-year-old insisted that no one else was in his vehicle.

“Just me alone and the weed,” he said.

The firearm charges were tossed just over a week ago and Laud walked from the St Ann Circuit Court a free man after prosecutor Adley Duncan offered no evidence against him.

Duncan, a deputy director of public prosecutions, outlined in court that a review of the video footage revealed a number of “inconsistencies” with the cops’ account of the circumstances that led to Laud’s arrest.

As an example, he said, a report by the police scene-of-crime unit confirmed that there was no damage to the car in which the three cops were travelling. Duncan told the court this is inconsistent with their account of how the chase transpired “when there are so many bullet holes from the police to the accused man’s car”.

“And the spent shell recovered only matched the police guns, even though they say someone else was firing. No other spent shells were found.”

In addition, he told the court that the cops, in their account of the arrest, did not disclose that one of them left the scene of the arrest in the Probox and returned minutes later before calling scenes of crime personnel to process the area.

“The video has them driving the vehicle away with the ganja and driving it back.”

Laud claimed that he was taken to the Mansfield area and kept in the police car, which was parked along the roadway for about 30 minutes. He could not say where the other policeman took his car.

“Him (policeman) phone ring and me hear him tell di person fi come back same place. So dem drive me back same place whey dem tek me from.”

Williams is now preparing to file a lawsuit against the State for malicious prosecution, charging that her client was falsely arrested for the gun charges by cops who were seeking to cover up a breach of JCF policy which prohibits them from shooting into a moving vehicle.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com