Right Steps & Poui Trees

Apologise for What? – When the state commits human rights abuses

gleaner-headline-5-9-2000-cash-for-street-peopleIn 2000, the Jamaican government agreed to pay compensation to the so-called MoBay street people – homeless Jamaicans, many of whom were living with mental illnesses – who had been rounded up in Montego Bay on the night of July 14, 1999. They were taken by truck to St Elizabeth, where they were callously dumped near a mud lake in the dead of night. After the Commission of Enquiry, the government accepted responsibility and indicated that the sum of J$20,000 per month was to be paid to the victims of its abuse. One of the women who was subjected to this horrendous treatment, Miss Sarah, was subsequently interviewed by a reporter about the news of this compensation. She was asked how she felt about the money that the government would be paying her. Her response was that the money was all well and good, but up to that time no-one had yet come and told her sorry for the way she was treated.

When the state through its agents commits human rights abuses, there are many things that the state has an obligation to do as part of the process towards justice. This includes prompt and effective investigations, actions towards holding those responsible accountable, and steps towards reparation for those harmed by the abuse. An often overlooked step in the reparation process is that of apologising for the harm done.

IACHR & Michael Gayle

In 2005, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published its findings in the petition filed by Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) regarding the death of Michael Gayle, the 26-year-old man who died after being brutally beaten by police and soldiers on the night of August 21, 1999. The Commission made a number of recommendations for action by the Jamaican state. Among those recommendations was that the state should make a public apology to Michael Gayle’s mother, Miss Jenny Cameron:

At the time, the Jamaican government said that it had issued an apology, but Miss Cameron and JFJ, which had made the petition on her behalf, disagreed. This raises issues about the nature of an apology given by the state, where and how it should be given and what it should say. Certainly, the person or people to whom the apology is given should be in no doubt that an apology has been made, nor should the community and country at large.

West Kingston, May 2010

Last week, Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck indicated that the government would within a matter of weeks be issuing an apology to the residents of West Kingston. This was one of the recommendations made in the report of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry, released to the public in June this year.

Some people have again been asking, as they did at the time the report was released, “Apologise for what?” For some, the actions of the police and soldiers during the May 2010 joint security operation were completely justified and they feel that the state has nothing to apologise for. After hearing and examining the evidence put before them during the Enquiry, the Commissioners are of a different opinion.

It is the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) that now forms the government that will deliver the apology in Parliament; it was the JLP that formed the government at the time that human rights violations were carried out in May 2010. Yet, if it had been a PNP administration in government now, they would have had the responsibility to deliver the apology nonetheless, as the state responsibilities continue, whichever party forms the government at a particular time.

A public apology is an important part of justice and reparation, but there must be no misunderstanding that it is all that is needed. There is much additional concrete action that needs to take place to fulfill the recommendations of the Commission of Enquiry and the state’s obligations for accountability (including accountability for crimes committed), for compensation and for measures that will prevent such an occurrence again.

UN Basic Principles & Guidelines

un-logoIn 2005, the United Nations (UN) adopted the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, which is a useful and relevant document.

In the section dealing with Reparations for harm suffered (IX), there is a list of principles which are necessary for full and effective reparation: restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. Among recommended actions contributing to the principle of satisfaction is:

“Public apology, including acknowledgement of the facts and acceptance of responsibility.” 22.(e)


Public apology is there among the many facets to the provision of justice for those who have suffered serious violations of their human rights.

Apologise for what? The Jamaican state must apologise for the human rights abuses carried out by its agents.




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.


Kahmile Reid
Snr. Public Relations Officer
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.


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



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.


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?