Right Steps & Poui Trees

Did he really have to die? – Questions when the police kill people living with mental illness

Only a madman would grab a gun from a policeman’s lap as he slept in a car outside a police station.

Odane Bennett – Killed April 20, 2016

The death of 23-year-old Odane Bennett on April 20, 2016 has again raised questions for the society about police responses to people living with mental illness, which has been a long-standing issue in Jamaica, as in many other countries around the world. It is not an issue, though, that has really received the attention and action that it deserves.

The press release sent out by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) gives an outline of the fatal shooting, which they are now investigating.

 

INDECOM probing fatal shooting at the Olympic Gardens Police Station

April 20, 2016 – The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has launched an investigation into the fatal shooting of a civilian in the vicinity of the Olympic Gardens Police Station at approximately 6 a.m. on April 20, 2016.

indecom release 21-4-16 borderThe deceased man has been identified as 23 year old Odane Bennett of Hill Avenue, Kingston 11. Initial information received by investigators confirmed that Bennett was of unsound mind and had been treated at the University Hospital and the Kingston Public Hospital for mental health problems in the past.

Police Report
The report received by INDECOM from the police is that a police officer was in a service vehicle parked outside the police station when a man (Bennett) allegedly relieved him of an M16 rifle and ran into a public passenger vehicle. It was reported that after he boarded the vehicle he was confronted by the same police officer and was shot and injured. He was later taken to the Kingston Public Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

A team from INDECOM attended and processed the incident scene and the body of the deceased. Civilian and security force witnesses were interviewed. The concerned officers were served with Notices to furnish INDECOM with an account of the incident. The firearm of the concerned officer was taken out of circulation and packaged and will be transported to the Government Forensic Laboratory.

Seeking Public Cooperation
The Commission is asking anyone who may have witnessed or can provide any information about the incident to call its Kingston officer at 1.876.968.1932, or call our mobile number at 1.876.878.0167. Persons are also encouraged to call our new Toll Free Lines: 1.888.991.5555 1.888.991.5555 FREE or 1.888.935.5550 1.888.935.5550 FREE.

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Contact:
Kahmile Reid
Snr. Public Relations Officer
INDECOM
Email: kahmile.reid@indecom.gov.jm

CVM TV report

A report by Joel Crosskill on CVM TV News had interviews with a policeman and with members of the community, with differing accounts. The video is available at the following link:  CVM TV News report

 

ASP Johnson said ” From what I was told, I do not know, the man had the firearm and pointed it and prepared to use it. I do not know what else could have been done…I got to understand that he was mentally challenged, and so because of this, he may not have been in full control of his actions. Nevertheless, the police had to act because it could have been a worse situation than we have. We could have had that man firing off the gun. Several persons who were traversing at the time on the road and were in the bus going about their business could have been in serious danger.”

A woman at the scene gave a different account, saying that the passengers had already come out of the bus, and were telling the police that the man was of unsound mind and saying to give him a chance.

Do we discount the comments of another woman interviewed at the scene, or do we take her words as a genuine, rational and valid call for a different approach?

“If I was the person that in that vehicle and ‘im tek that gun off mi and ‘im go into a van wid it, an I see dat the gun is on the ground, what I would do, the first thing,  if I have a gun in my hand to kill him, I would stick him up with that gun, yes, and tell him not to touch that gun. And I would tek him out of that vehicle and I would handcuff him and I would tek him to Bellevue den and seh check out if something wrong with this young man. And if nothing dont wrong wid him,  what I  would do then is lock him up for the act. But I wuddn just give him eleven shot on di ground.”

INDECOM’s investigation is in progress and we wait to hear the outcome.

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Only a madman would try to cross a police barricade at night during a curfew, and tell the police and soldiers that he was going to get ganja, when they asked where he thought he was going.

Michael Gayle – Beaten August 21, 1999; Died August 23,1999

There have been many other instances where people living with mental illness have been killed by the police. A number of them have been monitored by human rights group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) over the years. The first case of death at the hands of the security forces that was brought to JFJ was that of Michael Gayle, a 26-year-old man with a mental illness. On the night of August 21, 1999, while there was a curfew in Olympic Gardens where he lived, he attempted to cross a barricade at which police and soldiers were posted. When they told him he couldn’t pass, he told them he was going to get some ganja. The police and soldiers ended up beating, kicking and gun-butting this unarmed man so brutally, that his stomach ruptured. Eventually, at the behest of his mother, Jennie Cameron, he was taken to the Kingston Public Hospital, where his condition was misdiagnosed and he was sent home with instructions to take pain killers and to return days later for  an appointment at the psychiatric clinic. He died there, while waiting to be seen.

For more details, read this account by JFJ in 2005 at the time of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ findings and recommendations regarding Michael Gayle’s death: Seeking an End to The Abuse.

IACHR Gayle 2 IACHR Report on Michael Gayle case

 

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Only a madman would throw a stone, shatter a police car windscreen and keep walking towards the car.

Glenford Williams – Killed January 9, 2001

Another case that was monitored by JFJ was that of Glenford Williams, who was killed in January 2001; a coroner’s inquest was held in May 2002. I actually attended that inquest in May Pen on behalf of JFJ, which published the following in its Justice Writes column in the Gleaner, on May 22, 2002.

Justice Writes: Stones vs an M16

The main facts concerning this incident were not in dispute at the coroner’s inquest. Twenty-six-year-old Glenford Williams was killed by Sergeant Payne on January 9, 2001 in the Sandy Bay area of Clarendon.

On that day, Williams was on the main roadside near his home throwing stones at passing cars. Williams suffered from a mental illness, his mother and sister told the court, and had been receiving treatment at Bellvue Hospital for approximately seven years. Sometimes he became violent, and on occasions the family went to the May Pen police for help in dealing with him.

Gleaner Justice Writes M16 with borderPolice Action

Sgt Payne and constables Blackwood and Clair, responding to a radio transmission and report from another policeman, drove to the area in search of the man reported to be throwing stones. Both Blackwood and Clair testified that when Payne stopped the police jeep in an open lot at the top of a lane leading off the main road Williams ran towards the vehicle and threw at least two stones, one of which hit and shattered the front windscreen. Williams continued to advance towards the police as they alighted from the car, throwing more stones at them. It was reported that Sgt Payne fired one warning shot from his M16 rifle and then, when Williams was still 20-22 feet away, fired again, hitting him in the chest; the bullet ruptured his heart.

Coroner’s Questions

On Monday, 13th May, 2002, the Coroner’s Inquest took place in May Pen. In his summing up and instructions to the jury before they retired, Coroner Mr H. Wells raised a number of issues and questions for the jury to consider in arriving at a decision as to whether someone should be held criminally responsible for the death of Glenford Williams.

Was Sgt Payne, given all the circumstances, justified in shooting Williams, or was his action reckless or grossly negligent? Did Payne act reasonably given the distance, the level of threat and the extremity of force of the response? Williams, armed only with stones, was 20-22 feet away and none of the stones thrown had caused any injuries; Payne was not trapped within the vehicle, facing an advancing assailant.Was Payne’s response of shooting him in the chest with an M16 rifle justified? What other action might reasonably have been taken by the officer? Given his level of experience and rank in the Police Force, was he capable of shooting the victim in some other part of his body so as to disable him? Was this the best the policeman could have done to protect himself, his colleagues and the public from any harm that might have been caused by a stone? If the jury believed that Payne was in imminent danger and feared for his life and the life of his colleagues, then his actions could be found reasonable. If not, the question of whether his action was reckless and grossly negligent must be considered.

Perverse Verdict

After hearing all the evidence, and the coroner’s summation, the jury retired for approximately twenty minutes and returned with a verdict that no one was to be held criminally responsible for the death of Glenford Williams. The Coroner, having thanked the jury for performing their duty, then remarked that he did not agree with their verdict, and considered it to be a ‘perverse’ verdict.

The outcome of this inquest poses a number of questions the Jamaican society needs to consider.

  1. Did the circumstances require shots to be fired at all?
  2. How should an obviously and known mentally ill citizen be handled by officers of the Jamaica Constabulary Force?
  3. How much training in this area do members of the police force receive?
  4. What non-lethal equipment do the police have access to for use in such situations?
  5. What is our response as a society to the culture existing in sections of our Police Force, political directorate, and wider society that views the lethal use of force as a legitimate first rather than [last] resort?
  6. When there are no sanctions, what prevents such an incident from happening again?

Maybe the question that needs to be asked most of all is, “Who was at the end of the barrel?” It shouldn’t matter, but too often it does. Who is going to care about one less “mad man” on the street in Sandy Bay? We can just turn a blind eye and forget about the whole thing, no matter how ‘perverse’. Or we can stand up, and speak out and work for change.”

Unfortunately some of these questions remain as relevant today, as they were in 2002.

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Is it only a madman who would ask “Did he really have to die? Couldn’t they have responded in some other way?” in each of these, and many other instances, where the police kill people living with mental illness?

 

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Author: rightpouitree

Navigating the real and virtual worlds and sometimes writing about what I observe...

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