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No KPH lawsuit, says Clunis family - Relatives of slain superintendent pleased with care despite unexpected tragic end

Published:Sunday | August 2, 2020 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson - Senior Staff Reporter
Wentworth Charles, chairman of the South East Regional Health Authority.
Leon Clunis

The relatives of Superintendent Leon Clunis – the leader of the ill-fated Horizon Park police operation in St Catherine that saw him and two other cops murdered – are lauding staff at the Spanish Town and Kingston Public hospitals, where Clunis was treated for gunshot wounds before he died.

The commendations follow speculation that the medical staff at the often-vilified Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) may have fallen off in their treatment of the cop, resulting in his death.

Last Wednesday, however, Clunis’ sister, Janice, rubbished such claims as she also dismissed suggestions that the family was seeking legal counsel to take action against the government facility. Instead, Janice said she was most gracious to the dedicated staff, who worked exceedingly hard.

“I have heard rumours, but I can categorically say that they are not true. We were at the hospital almost every day. We asked about his medication, we saw his medication ... . There was a family member there every day and they treated him well,” said Janice, speaking of the days following her brother’s transfer from the Spanish Town Hospital to KPH.

“As a matter of fact, I asked him if he wanted to go to a different hospital and his words were, ‘I am extremely comfortable, they treat me like a king in here. I don’t want to move and go anywhere else. I am fine’,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.

“A lot of the nurses and doctors down there they were very kind. They accommodated us all the time and some were like family to us,” she continued.

“When he died, I was saying to them, ‘This was supposed to be Spanish Town and KPH’s success story’, but obviously it was not to be,” she said, adding that some staff members wept openly when Clunis passed away as they were in the process of discharging him from the KPH.

Clunis was among four cops shot in a June 12 predawn operation to capture an armed criminal in Horizon Park, St Catherine. Corporal Dane Biggs and Constable Decardo Hylton also lost their lives. The triggerman, 39-year-old Damion Hamilton, was cut down hours later in another police operation in Cooreville Gardens, St Andrew, in which two other officers were injured.

Reconnected with God

During his more than two weeks in hospital, Clunis was a jovial figure, especially in the latter days. He was happy, cheerful, and had reconnected with God, Janice said.

A bullet reportedly flew past his head, grazing him on his face, she recalled. But even with a scar, Clunis found humour.

“He had a scar on his face and he showed it to me and told me that it was his new dimple ... . He was up and he was talking about a lot of things. He was actually a child of God before and he renewed his faith in church during that week. He was talking about the grace of God and how lucky we were as a family. He was also talking about his friends ... . Those guys were really a part of our family,” she said in reference to Hylton and Biggs, who died on the day of the failed operation.

Hylton and Biggs were buried last month, but Clunis’ funeral is slated for Saturday, August 8.

“For us, we really lost three men, and it has been really, really difficult for us,” said Janice, adding that the family has been receiving tremendous support from the Jamaica Constabulary Force and other state agencies as they grieve.

“He actually told us days before he died to stop crying – ‘I am fine, my soul is good’,” Janice said. “So it is difficult, but we are comforted because we know that he is fine.”

She said that everyone, including hospital staff, believed that her brother would have recovered from his injuries.

“We do understand that after this kind of surgery, it is even amazing that he lived at all,” she said.

Janice offered thanks on behalf of the family for the dozens of individuals who donated blood to her brother.

Staff hurt at passing of respected cop

Perched on the fringes of the gritty Denham Town community in western Kingston, the 244-year-old KPH is a Type A trauma facility which treats a large number of seriously injured patients, especially from motor vehicle accidents and shootings, and those suffering from chronic illnesses. It also serves as the major referral hospital for other institutions across the island and operates with pressured staff and limited resources.

The hospital also has its dark shadows as gunshots echoing nearby is often a talking point for former patients. So, too, are tales of gunmen breaching hospital security to continue their assault on victims. There are also stories of staff stealing well-needed supplies and of mentally ill patients becoming unruly, harmful to others, or suicidal.

Chairman of the South East Regional Health Authority, Wentworth Charles, said that despite the sad ending, Clunis’ story will forever resonate among staff at the facility, and is but one of those stories that will continue to help lift staff morale in the KPH’s most challenging times.

“The staff was very distraught because Mr Clunis, in their view, had recovered beyond the seriousness under which he was admitted into the hospital. He had recovered to a point where they felt satisfied and he was speaking with them,” shared Charles. “He was jovial and he was sharing a lot of his joys with them. He also had a number of visitors.”

Charles noted that he and other members of the executive were on hand to welcome Clunis at KPH after his transfer from the Spanish Town Hospital.

“So when the staff learned that he succumbed to his injuries on the eve of his departure, they were very distraught, some even cried because Mr Clunis is a police officer who was well respected for his hard work, and it was not only Mr Clunis who lost his life, but the other policemen as well,” Charles added.

“I spoke to the family on a few occasions, and I formed the view from his wife that she was satisfied with the care and protection – security arrangement – that was provided by the hospital. Repeatedly, she commended the doctors, the nurses, the porters, and all auxiliary staff.”