Sat | Jul 4, 2020

Cops in limbo urged to take JCF to court

Published:Monday | June 1, 2020 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Staff Reporter

An attorney based in the United Kingdom (UK) has suggested that an urgent application be made to the Jamaican Supreme Court challenging the vexed and long-standing practice by the local police force of leaving cops on suspension or interdiction for years.

The suggestion by Matondo Mukulu, a former acting public defender in Jamaica, follows an article published by The Sunday Gleaner two weeks ago that brought to public attention the cases of three cops who have been out on suspension or interdiction for a total of 19 years.

Mukulu believes that the challenge to the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) suspension and interdiction rules stands a good chance of being successful and should be led by the Police Federation, which represents cops up to the rank of inspector.

“The federation, quite frankly, should get a reasonably competent public/constitutional lawyer and make an urgent application to the Supreme Court not only for these persons [mentioned in the Sunday Gleaner article], but to have the interdiction rules and the absence of a reasonable period for resolution declared unconstitutional,” he told The Gleaner.

“No court would resist that application,” he insisted.

Up to late yesterday, there was no response from chairman of the Police Federation, Sergeant Patrae Rowe, about the recommendation.

The JCF has not commented publicly on the reasons for the lengthy delays in reinstating suspended cops.

One of the suspended constables quoted in the Sunday Gleaner article embraced Mukulu’s suggestion but complained that the costs involved were out of his reach.

“Anything that is going to work in my favour for me to get reinstated, I am in for it, but on the other hand, the whole court thing and the lawyer thing, it a go tek money … and not even a dollar me no have fi do dem deh things deh,” he said.

The Sunday Gleaner article cited the case of a constable who has been on suspension since August 28, 2010, with half his basic salary. The 36-year-old enlisted in the JCF in 2003, meaning he has spent more time on suspension than he has carrying out policing duties.

The father of three disclosed that he was suspended after an internal panel found him guilty of misconduct for allegedly threatening a justice of the peace in Manchester. He insists that he was falsely accused.

The constable said that he filed an appeal with the 14-day window allowed by JCF rules but is still waiting for his case to be heard. He believes, based on checks made at the Office of the Police Commissioner, that his case is lost in the system.

Another cop cited in the Sunday Gleaner article reported that he and two other cops were suspended without pay shortly after they were charged by the Independent Commission of Investigations in December 2016 for the offence of discharging their police-issued firearms within 40 feet of a public thoroughfare.

All three maintained their innocence and were acquitted in May 2018 after prosecutors offered no evidence against them. Two years later, they are still awaiting reinstatement.

“Everything in terms of paperwork has been completed and sent to the relevant authorities, but we have not been furnished with any information on reinstatement. No call, nothing at all,” said the cop who spoke to this newspaper.

According to statistics compiled by the Police Federation, the trio are among 60 cops now on suspension or interdiction for between two and 10 years.

For Mukulu, the actions of the JCF in these cases raise a number of constitutional issues. As an example, he argued that the concept of paying cops part of their salary while they fight criminal or internal disciplinary charges is “unconstitutional”.

“Our criminal [justice] system still guarantees one the presumption of innocence, and equally, our law sets down the right to a fair hearing. One cannot enjoy a fair hearing if in the first instance, his ability to fund his defence or response is being compromised by the State’s decision to undercut him/her financially,” he argued.

“This is an age-old constitutional issue that will not be resolved unless and until one of those officers initiates a claim against the State.”