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Wrong target - DPP clears constable, puts senior cops, Gov’t in firing line for deadly police school foul-up

Published:Wednesday | June 26, 2019 | 12:16 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Staff Reporter

There was a litany of blunders, some by senior cops, in the moments before and immediately after a 2013 mix-up with live and blank rounds at the police training school in St Catherine, resulting in a five cops being shot, one fatally, a document authored by the nation’s chief prosecutor has revealed.

At the top of the list, according to the document, is the finding of a ballistic test that “a part of the mechanism” from one firearm used in the shooting was “switched” with a second gun “from which it was determined that all spent shells collected from the scene had been fired.”

“The [second] firearm was issued to one [constable’s name withheld]. However, it has since been discovered that neither the firearm nor constable … had been in the [Urban Tactical Training] Village at the time of the shooting,” said the document, a copy of which was obtained by The Gleaner.

“The Crown is unable to provide direct evidence of how the switch of firearms could have taken place, but narrows the likely opportunity to when the accused and sergeant [name withheld] were assisting with the stacking of the weapons for storage pending transportation to the Government Forensic Laboratory,” the report further said.

The document paints a picture of foul-ups by senior police officers during the tactical training exercise, which was organised by the Mobile Reserve Division.

“The blank rounds and live rounds were being kept in close proximity and the necessary precautions were not adhered to,” it charged.

“The accused [Constable Bruce Martin], together with the other junior instructors, were not being supervised by the senior officers who were responsible for managing the training. It is evident that the firearms being used during the fateful incident were not issued to the relevant officers,” it continued.

The assertions were included in a letter Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn dispatched to the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) following the decision by her office to step in and offer no evidence against Martin.

As a result, he was freed of manslaughter and unlawful wounding in the St Catherine Circuit Court last Friday.

Martin was arrested and charged by INDECOM, and according to reports, this was done without consultation with the DPP’s office.

“We are not of the view that the evidence meets the necessary threshold,” the document insisted.

On January 30, 2013, cops assigned to the Mobile Reserve Division were engaged in a simulated attack training exercise at the Jamaica Police Academy in Twickenham Park when six participants, including Constable Ricardo McKenzie, were shot. McKenzie later died at hospital.

It was later discovered that the firearms used in the training exercise were loaded with live rounds and not blanks as planned.

According to the DPP’s document, the sergeant who headed the training team and who had responsibility for the key to the box containing the ammunition “was not present at the material time when the blank rounds were being issued”.

“Further, there was little supervision offered by any senior officers at this critical juncture. The Crown, therefore, would be hard-pressed to prove that the accused was criminally negligent,” the document said.

Llewellyn has forwarded her findings to Commissioner of Police Antony Anderson.

“We also would advise very strong departmental action consequent on a detailed departmental review to hold officers who breached the relevant protocol accountable,” she said.

The nation’s chief prosecutor also advised relatives of McKenzie and the five other cops who were injured in the incident to pursue legal action.