DON’T BLAME CLUNIS - • Retired cop says commanders sometimes have to make tough calls • Police Fed says no evidence senior cop disregarded advice in deadly operation
One retired policeman has come to the defence of Superintendent Leon Clunis amid messages being circulated on social media alleging that the senior cop ignored a recommendation to “stand down” with plans for last Friday’s deadly raid in Horizon Park, St Catherine, because of insufficient personnel.
The pre-dawn operation left two officers dead with two others, including Clunis himself, nursing injuries.
Former Deputy Superintendent Altamont ‘Parro’ Campbell, who himself faced criticisms for a controversial decision he made in the line of duty, described the criticisms as improper, asserting that commanders are sometimes forced to make decisions with limited resources.
“If a district constable learns that a wanted man put a gun under a piece a paper down the road, if he is to wait to call sergeant or whoever, it gone,” he reasoned.
The retired crime-fighter acknowledged that proper risk assessment and other measures have to be considered.
“If Mr Clunis had gone there with one police officer and the man opened fire at them and they fired back and get the man and get the same gun you see on display, everybody would say he was a hero,” Campbell said yesterday.
“Now that he went there with a team and whatever happened happened, you are going to hear criticisms in some quarters in the police force and in the public saying whether him should a wait or him should a go.”
Campbell disclosed that Clunis previously served in the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Anti-Corruption Branch, and surmised that this could be among the factors fuelling the criticisms.
“When you work at anti-corruption and you happen to encounter officers who step over the line and you draw dem back, you are going to expect that derogatory things are going to be said about them,” he noted.
The former deputy superintendent faced public backlash in 2009 after he directed a police team he was leading to stand back as warring gangsters traded bullets in the gritty St Andrew community known as One Hundred Lane.
He explained at the time that the decision by the cops to hold their ground demonstrated good judgement, as it may have prevented a worse outcome.
SOLID INTELLIGENCE BEHIND OPERATION
The Jamaica Police Federation, which represents cops up to the rank of inspector, is also aware of the whispers about Friday’s deadly early-morning operation.
However, Sergeant Patrae Rowe, chairman of the Police Federation, told The Sunday Gleaner that he was aware of the claim, but insisted that there was no evidence to support it.
“Nobody indicated that they told him to stand down and he refused,” he said. “I was moving around the space with the police commissioner, talking to senior officers, including the head of St Catherine North [Police Division], and nobody gave that account.”
Rowe described the intelligence that guided the operation as “solid” and acknowledged that Clunis had operational responsibility in that area.
“He can make the decision as to what target to go after,” the Police Federation chairman said.
Details have also emerged about the suspected triggerman believed to have been responsible for the shooting deaths of Detective Corporal Dane Biggs, 32, and Constable Decardo Hylton, 26, who were both assigned to the ongoing state of emergency in St Catherine.
According to law-enforcement sources, 39-year-old Damion Hamilton was deported from Canada in 2017 after he was arrested and charged for possession of an illegal firearm and cocaine. There are also reports that he served in the United States Marine Corps before moving to Canada.
Police insiders also provided a detailed account of the early-morning operation, which was based on intelligence gathered by Biggs.
“He was the man who had the intelligence on the operation and he visited the location to ensure the intelligence was correct, and after that, he briefed the man dem. He told them what they are looking for, who the likely suspect is, and what they should expect,” according to one insider.
The source said the team of 11 cops, including a female, got to the house where Hamilton was holed up shortly before daybreak and were inside conducting clear-and-search operations in all the rooms.
However, according to reports, the team became suspicious when they encountered “difficulties” as they were about to search the final room.
“They were moving around tactically until the man just came from nowhere and started firing,” one source disclosed.
The Police High Command has declined to release details of the operation, citing the ongoing investigation.
Hamilton was killed later that same day in another police operation in Cooreville Gardens, St Andrew.