Tue | Oct 27, 2020

Tivoli justice ‘impossible’ - Botched police probes doom search for truth forever, say watchdogs

Published:Friday | May 22, 2020 | 12:27 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Staff Reporter
Marjorie Williams, a resident of Tivoli Gardens, weeps on May 14, 2020, as she recalls the death of her sons, Fernando and Fabian Grant, 10 years ago. She has accused the security forces of killing them in cold blood.
Marjorie Williams, a resident of Tivoli Gardens, weeps on May 14, 2020, as she recalls the death of her sons, Fernando and Fabian Grant, 10 years ago. She has accused the security forces of killing them in cold blood.

The search for answers about how dozens of west Kingston residents perished during the infamous 2010 Tivoli Gardens incursion has been doomed by botched police investigations from the outset, two state agencies have asserted.

However, both the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) and the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) avoided questions about whether the missteps by police investigators 10 years ago were deliberate.

The result of the botched probe is that it would be “almost impossible” to hold anyone accountable for alleged atrocities committed during the operation, both agencies have publicly acknowledged.

Commissioner of INDECOM, Terrence Williams, suggested that the initial investigation was marred by delays in the collection of ballistics and forensic evidence and said this “was not assisted by obstruction and resistance [by the security forces] to getting at the truth”.

“What we had here was very poor scene(-of-crime) process, very poor initial work ... . So, short of a breakthrough, perhaps somebody confessing, it’s gonna be very difficult because ballistics is not going to do it,” Williams told The Gleaner.

“We are likely never, ever get to the bottom of this,” Williams said.

Ten years ago, Jamaica made international headlines after heavily armed thugs loyal to drug lord Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke engaged the security forces in a fierce firefight to block his arrest on an extradition warrant.

The warrant was issued by the Jamaican Government after a months-long diplomatic row with Washington over a request for Coke’s extradition.

When the shooting ended, at least one soldier and 68 civilians were dead. A commission of enquiry chaired by respected Barbadian jurist Sir David Simmons found that there was strong evidence to suggest that members of the security forces engaged in extrajudicial killings.

Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry said that one of the troubling things emerging out of the enquiry “is that the JCF [Jamaica Constabulary Force] did not acknowledge any responsibility for any civilian death whatever”.

“The evidence coming out of the commission of enquiry established that there were extrajudicial [killings]. What did not come out is who did it. As to whether or not that can now be established, it may almost be impossible,” she said.

Marjorie Williams broke down in tears when this information was relayed to her. She still clings to hope that she will get justice for her two sons who, according to her account, were executed by cops next door to the house in which they resided.

“That is so heart-breaking. To know my two sons were killed cold-blooded, I really can’t explain how hurtful this is,” Williams told The Gleaner yesterday.

“A better if them did kill me and mek him gwaan ‘cause he was such a nice person,” she said of her youngest son, 17-year-old Fernando Grant.

In dramatic testimony before the Simmons commission, Williams recounted how Fernando and his brother, Fabian Grant, were marched from their home on Dee Cee Avenue by a soldier who instructed a group of policemen standing outside to “sort them out”.

“An’ I hear Fernando say, ‘Mommy! Mommy! Dem kill ‘Pucksy’!” she said then, making reference to her eldest son’s nickname.

“Then I heard him say, ‘Mommy! Mommy! Dem going to kill me!’ and then I heard the shots go off,” Williams testified.

The enquiry also heard testimony from three JDF soldiers about witnessing members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force killing unarmed men in a section of Tivoli Gardens known as ‘Java’.

Another dramatic revelation during the enquiry was the admission by then army chief, Major General Stewart Saunders, that he authorised the use of mortars during the operation. The army had initially denied using mortars.

However, Saunders testified that the mortars were fired under what he described as observed and controlled conditions into specific areas and said the aim was to disorient gunmen who were manning barricades that blocked entry to the community.

INDECOM has obtained a warrant to search JDF headquarters at Up Park Camp in St Andrew for mortars and information related to their use during the operation. The Supreme Court has since struck down an application by the JDF to quash the search warrant, but attorneys for the army have taken the case to the Court of Appeal.

This again, Commissioner Williams said, has stalled the investigation being undertaken by INDECOM.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com