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Shot in the back - Simmons disturbed by Tivoli operation post-mortem reports

Published:Wednesday | April 22, 2015 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett, Gleaner Writer
Sir David Simmons, chairman of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry.

THIRTY-FIVE or nearly half of the more than 70 persons killed during the 2010 police-military operations in Tivoli Gardens were shot in the back, chairman of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry Sir David Simmons revealed yesterday.

Declaring that he was bothered by the revelation, Simmons told the commission that the figure formed part of the post-mortem report that was prepared by the Government.

"There is a statistic that has been bothering me from the time I've seen it, and it doesn't seem to have bothered anybody else yet. Of the deceased [from the operations], 35 received gunshot wounds to their posterior," he disclosed.

"By that I mean their backs or their buttocks ... 35. Odd statistics, that's all I am saying at this time," the former Barbados chief justice emphasised.

Former Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington, who was being cross-examined at the time, was asked if he knew that the figure existed.

"I haven't seen the ballistics summaries [post-mortem reports], but I believe that kind of information would be embodied in it. The Bureau of Special Investigations, I know, had that (information) because they attended all the post-mortems and documented the causes of death," Ellington responded.

The three-member commission is probing the conduct of the operations which were aimed at capturing drug kingpin Christopher 'Dudus' Coke in his west Kingston stronghold. According to a report by the Office of the Public Defender, 74 civilians and one member of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) were killed in the operations.

Responding to questions from attorney-at-law Carol DaCosta, who is representing residents of Tivoli Gardens, Ellington conceded that innocent persons may have died in the operations, but placed the blame squarely on the heavily-armed criminals who had gathered in the community to resist attempts to arrest Coke.

"The loss of 74 lives was tragic, regrettable [and] it should never have happened. It should be blamed on the criminal elements who barricaded the community, who resisted attempts of the police to enforce the law, who attacked the police and who put the lives of thousands of innocent civilians at grave risk," he testified.

"I believe some of them lost their lives and it is quite possible that innocent civilians lost their lives as well," the retired police chief continued.

Testifying during cross-examination by attorney-at-law Lord Anthony Gifford, who is representing the Office of the Public Defender (OPD), Ellington said prior warning of the Bruce Golding-led administration's intent to sign the extradition warrant for Coke would have been "desirable and beneficial to us".

The commission has already heard evidence that days before then Justice Minister Dorothy Lightbourne signed the extradition warrant, Golding used a nationwide broadcast to announce that he had given her the authority to proceed.

Ellington told the commission that Golding's broadcast was how he learnt of the Government's "official position", but insisted that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) was "not taken by surprise".

Initially, he refused to divulge whether Golding told him of the Government's plan to sign the warrant, repeating to Gifford and the three-member panel that he was not taken by surprise.

"Oh, that's a beautiful answer. Pads together, bat in the air, and let it pass outside the off stump. Now answer the question," Simmons directed.

"I had not been officially informed," Ellington relented.

Meanwhile, the former police commissioner testified that the JCF was of the view that the three-day prior notice would have been desirable to help the security forces "exploit the benefit of the element of surprise".

This triggered an exchange with the OPD attorney.

"Did you tell the Government that?" Gifford questioned.

"No, we didn't," replied Ellington.

"Why not?" the OPD attorney pressed.

"Because the way events evolved at the time didn't give us the opportunity to ... . Though it was desirable, it was not a critical factor," the former police chief explained.

"That was a fatal error, was it not?" Gifford continued.

"No, it was not," Ellington insisted, while acknowledging that he had numerous briefings with Golding and then National Security Minister Dwight Nelson.