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Stabroek News

Costly cops
published: Sunday | July 9, 2006

Residents from Hermitage demonstrate in front of the Police Commissioner's office on Hope Road over death of Damian Johnson who was shot by the police, on Friday, June 3, 2005. - Rudolph Brown/Chief Photographer

THE GOVERNMENT agreed to pay Nicola Webb $11.2 million for her injuries caused by the bullets fired by a policeman, which won't cause her to walk again, but which was expected to help make life a bit more bearable. "The compensatory award is a pecuniary award to see if you can compensate the person for injury, loss and damage suffered," Earl Delisser, the lawyer who represented her in the case said. He said though, that there was no compensation for injury that would put persons in the position that they were before the injury. "The whole idea is to put the person in the best position possible. Over the years, by a series of awards, the court arrives at an average sum and uses that as a benchmark for future awards."

Incidents like Webb's are not particularly unusual ­ at least not the complaints against the police or other agents of the Jamaican State. It seems that increasingly, people are demanding compensation and, the Government has had to pay.

For instance, the settlement to Webb, paid out in tranches between July 2003 and October 2005, was not the only compensation made by the Government in recent times. Documents obtained by The Sunday Gleaner under the Access to Information Act, suggest that the Government paid out nearly $80 million between 2001 and up to February of this year, to persons killed or injured by its agents or otherwise victimised by the State.


Moreover, for the current fiscal year, which ends in March 2007, the Government has allocated $260 million for judgment debts and anticipated awards and settlements against the State, up 30 per cent on the $200 million the year before, or a rise of 136 per cent of the allocation for 2004/2005.

While the $70.9 million that was paid out by the Government over the past five years amounts to a fraction of the allocations for all claims against the Government, it could have been significantly more, based on the number of outstanding judgments (cases for which judgments have not been paid) and incidents of shootings. There are at least 33 outstanding judgments, and a number of pending court and other claims submitted, the number of which, the Solicitor-General's office said, was not readily available.

Between 1999 and May 2006, there were 925 fatal shooting incidents before the Bureau of Special Investigation (BSI) in which 10,66 persons died; 756 injury incidents in which 913 persons were injured; and 807 cases in which the police discharged their firearm. The total number of incidents before the BSI for the period was 2,488.

Suits are being brought against either the Attorney-General alone or the Attorney-General and the offending police officers. And the documents indicate that the police do not discriminate against whom they take aim. There are even instances of policemen who were shot by other policemen, successfully bringing suits against the State and their colleagues.

The Government had to pay out to Constable Carl Mullings, $2.4 million in 2002 and 2003 and the Solicitor-General's office in response to Sunday Gleaner's queries as to why the policeman sued the State said, "Constable Mullings alleged that he was injured when Constable Cooper discharged his service revolver in a negligent manner ... "

A similar response was given as to why Cons. Andrew MgGregor brought a suit in the Supreme Court against a colleague, Cons. Andre Thomas and the Attorney-General.


Also, there are policemen who are featured in multiple shootings for which the Government has paid.

The two compensations that the Government made this year, up to February 28, amount to $13.8 million. Patrick Keys was shot and killed by the police in 1990 and 16 years later, on February 28, 2006 a cheque in the sum of $7,573,962 was issued to his estate. And in the case of Karen Fills against Constable Garth Williams and the Attorney-General, filed in 2000, compensation was made to the tune of $6.2 million. The allegations are that Karen Fills, a constable in the force, was out on patrol with Constable Williams when she was shot with an M16 rifle.

But while the $11.2 million received by Webb and the $7.5 by Key's estate may be substantial, if not large, in the context of Jamaica, most people who bring cases against the police cannot expect pay-out at anywhere near this level.

In the past, according to the documents surveyed by The Sunday Gleaner, most compensations are under $1 million and in one case, as little as $10,000.

The Solicitor-General's office was asked to explain the assumptions that are made each year regarding the average pay-out and the cases to be settled, when the budget for compensation is made. Director in the Solicitor-General's office, Marlene Aldred, said that ... "the amount in the budget under the heading 'awards and indemnities' is fixed on an annual basis according to the availability of resources."

Amnesty International, the human rights watchdog, has always been caustic in its criticisms of the excessive use of force and the gun by Jamaica's police. The human rights group, in its latest report, said that at least 168 people were killed by the police in 2005, "many in circumstances suggesting they were extra-judicially executed."

But Attorney-General A. J. Nicholson wants Amnesty International to back off, saying the lobby group was not fully aware of the circumstances confronting the police in Jamaica, where gunmen were determined to cause mayhem and take innocent lives.

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