Right Steps & Poui Trees


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Increased Police Killings, Privacy & Other Concerns: INDECOM’S 1st Quarterly Report 2017

Jamaica’s Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) is a Commission of Parliament mandated “to undertake investigations concerning actions by members of the Security Forces and other agents of the State that result in death or injury to persons or the abuse of the rights of persons”. (INDECOM Act) The Commission began work in late 2010 and submits annual and quarterly reports to Parliament; these reports are available to the public and many are posted on INDECOM’s website. The reports give both data and analysis regarding the complaints and incidents investigated; they also include reviews of issues of concern to the Commission. In the past, these issues have included

  • deaths in custody
  • deaths of the mentally ill in confrontation with the police
  • command responsibility for the use of force
  • the School Resource Officers Programme
  • firing at vehicles.

1st Quarterly Report 2017

INDECOM 1st Quarterly Report 2017

The 1st Quarterly Report – 2017 was tabled in Parliament earlier this month and INDECOM held a press conference last Friday (May 26, 2017) to discuss the contents of the report.

Part One of the report gives information about new complaints received by INDECOM during the first three months of 2017 and lists the names of the security force-related fatalities, giving the location of each incident and which state agency was involved in the fatality.

Other information, such as Fatal Shootings by Parish, is given.

INDECOM 1st Q report 2017 p 11 chart

Part Two  of the report deals with the work of the Legal Department. It gives information on the Commission’s completed reports for the period and gives details of the recommendations of the Legal Department in 51 fatal shooting incidents. Most of these incidents took place between 2011 – 2015, but there is one case from 2008 and another from 2010. In the majority of these cases, there was the recommendation that no criminal charge be laid or disciplinary action be taken, and that the file be forwarded to the Special Coroner. In one case there was the recommendation that a policeman be charged with murder and in another case there was a confirmation of the DPP’s decision to charge a policeman with murder. INDECOM 1st Q 2017 - cases 1-2INDECOM 1st Q 2017 - case 15INDECOM 1st Q 2017 - case 22INDECOM 1st Q 2017 - case 33

The report also indicates the arrests and charges during the first quarter:INDECOM 1st Q 2017 - arrests and chanrges

Part Three of the report is on Lessons Learnt. It contains alarming data about the sharp increase in the number of people killed by the security forces in the first three months of 2017, when compared to the same period last year – a 75% increase.  This sets out in report form information that INDECOM has already communicated during the year.

The decline in security force fatalities, from above 200 killed per annum, for many years, fell to 115 in 2014. This was a 55% reduction. Fatalities dropped to 101 in 2015 and 111 in 2016.

However, the first quarter of 2017 (Jan – March) has seen a 75% increase in fatal shootings over the same period of 2016; 42 fatalities as against 24 in 2016. NB. 42 fatalities was not reached until mid-May, in 2016.

Fatal shootings in January, 2017, amounted to 19, a figure last observed in January 2014. Explanations provided by the JCF for this increase and subsequent months was reported as a rise in police confrontations with criminal gangs. (p. 31)

INDECOM press conference 26-5-17

Left to right: Denyelle Anderson (Public Relations Officer), Terrence Williams (Commissioner) , Hamish Campbell (Assistant Commissioner)

At the press conference, INDECOM Assistant Commissioner Hamish Campbell gave an update in the number of fatalities, stating that as of May 25, 2017, 64 people had been killed, compared to 44 by the same date in 2016. This is a 45% increase, which is still an alarming figure. He also reported that as of that date, the combined number of people shot and killed or shot and injured by the security forces was 87.

Mr Campbell also spoke about the fact that  46% of the people shot and killed or injured by the security forces in the first quarter of 2017 were not in possession of a firearm and 32% of them were completely unarmed.

INDECOM pictograph p. 31

Pictograph 1: Persons killed or injured without a firearm or in possession of non-firearm weapon (p. 31)

 

The section contains further information about these incidents and concludes as follows:

INDECOM 1st Q report 2017 p 33

Part Four of the report gives information about INDECOM’s meetings with the JCF, its outreach activities and press releases issued.

Additionally, the First Quarterly Report has an article on the issue of privacy and policing, dealing with surveillance, CCTV cameras and the need for regulations in Jamaica governing their use. There is also a review of the Major Organised Crime & Anti-Corruption (MOCA) Bill before Parliament and the concerns INDECOM has about aspects of the Bill. INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams spoke about these two issues at the press conference and I will comment on them in a separate blog post.

INDECOM’s Reports are a useful mechanism for the public to track the work of the Commission and some issues of great importance to the society. It is a shame that they are not the subject of more discussion and debate in the Parliament itself.

 


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Him Done Dead Already: Police Handling of Bodies After Fatal Shootings

It is clear from the video that the police think the man they are throwing into the back of their pickup is already dead. Their disregard is graphically captured, as are the distressed wails and shouts from some of the people witnessing what is happening. The police drive off quickly, once the back of the pickup is secured.

The Independent Commission of Investigation (INDECOM) released the following statement by its Commissioner Terrence Williams on May 27, regarding recent incidents in which the police have shown a lack of respect in their treatment of bodies of people allegedly killed by the police:
INDECOM Press Release 29-5-16 pg1

State Agents’ failure to respect the dead

The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) notes the recent circulation of a video within public media fora, which records members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) handling the apparent lifeless body of Mr. John Hibbert on May 17, 2016 following his alleged fatal shooting by JCF officers. The video shows police officers throwing Mr. Hibbert into the back of a JCF service vehicle.

What is both disturbing and unacceptable is the manner in which the body of Mr. Hibbert is ‘flung’ into the back of the vehicle with absolutely no regard or sense of ‘humanity’ for him. All citizens, irrespective of what they have allegedly done, or who they may be, are entitled to be treated with a measure of respect.

The removal of the deceased from any crime scene, whether by police officers, ambulance service or mortuary officials is deserving of a level of professionalism, dignity and respect, both for the dead and for those family members and friends who are often present.

State Agents are not qualified medical personnel and they cannot formally pronounce persons as dead. They are required to always treat a victim as injured until pronounced dead by a qualified person. Hence, in all cases, a measure of urgency is to be employed when treating with injured persons. The JCF has very clear guidelines within their own ‘Human Rights and Use of Force Policy’ which directs, ‘… that assistance and medical aid are rendered to any injured or affected persons at the earliest possible moment’. [Section 57(3)]. This video provides no evidence of this prescribed approach.

The Commission has observed a recent trend in which photographs and videos are circulated on social media platforms following security force-related fatal shootings. Photographs recently posted on the internet concerned two fatal shootings on the 12th and 13th of April 2016.

The photographs show the clearest evidence of a dead person, taken in circumstances in which it is more than reasonable to assume were recorded by State Agents or permitted by them, but in which it was reported that the injured persons were “rushed to hospital.” Such photographic evidence provides a contradictory account to there being any ‘injured’ person or any urgency in being ‘rushed to hospital’. Such photography eliminates the credibility of such statements.

The current video and recent uploading of pictures of people killed by the security forces is observed both nationally and internationally across the World Wide Web, and does little to enhance the reputation of the Jamaican police service. The Commission has received comments and complaints and we urge State Agents to ensure they act, at all times, with the utmost professionalism and demonstrate the due respect for citizens and the families of these dead or injured men.

As the Indian Union Home Minister Rajneth Singh recently commented, following a death in which paramilitary forces were involved, “…as a civilized society it is a common gesture that the dead body of a person be treated with utmost respect and dignity…”

Commissioner of INDECOM, Terrence Williams

The INDECOM Commissioner raises concerns about

  • the way in which the body was thrown into the back of the police vehicle
  • the taking and posting online of photos of people killed by the police & the suggested involvement or complicity of police in the taking of such photos
  • a lack of urgency in taking people shot by police for medical treatment or to be pronounced dead by medical personnel.

Some of these are concerns that have been expressed over many years.

Williams points out that the police, not being medical personnel, are not able formally to pronounce someone dead. This is the reason the police routinely give for not leaving bodies in place at scenes of police killings to enable police photographers or forensic teams to examine bodies where they fell. They say they must take the person to a hospital, as they can’t presume that the person is dead.

In principle, this is a valid reason. Yet often the way the person is handled (as in the video referred to by INDECOM) or the lack of urgency in taking the person to the medical facility shows clearly that the police have already pronounced that him done dead already. If not, they would be handling an injured person in a way which would be a gross dereliction of their duty, according to their own “Human Rights and Use of Force Policy”.

There have been many accounts over decades of police throwing people – dead or still alive – into trunks of police cars or the back of other vehicles, for the journey to the hospital. And many accounts of delays in taking them to hospital.

Basil Brown – Killed February 17, 2003

map showing Kingsway Hope Rd corner

One such instance comes to mind, that of Basil Brown, shot by a policeman on February 17, 2003, across the road from Andrews Memorial Hospital, at the corner of Kingsway Avenue and Hope Road. Witnesses at the scene said that Mr Brown was alive when he was lifted into a van and that nurses who had observed the incident were calling for him to be brought into the hospital. That request was ignored and he was taken instead to the University Hospital some distance away. However, instead of taking the most direct route – straight up Hope Road towards Papine, they set off along Kingsway Avenue, and by the time they arrived at University Hospital, Mr Brown was dead.

Braeton Seven – Killed March 14, 2001

In March 2003, Amnesty International published a report titled “Jamaica: The killing of the Braeton Seven – A justice system on trial”. This was after the conclusion of the Coroner’s Inquest into the deaths of the seven youths killed by police in a house in Braeton, St Catherine, on March 14, 2001.

AI photo from 3-2003 Braeton report

(Photo credit: Amnesty International)

A section in the report deals with the delay in removal of the bodies:

Removal of the bodies

The positioning of dead bodies, blood trails and other evidence can give vital information as to how an individual was killed. Yet the police moved the bodies of the seven before any officer independent of the killings had an opportunity to examine or record their positions. The police later justified their action on the grounds that they had taken the youths to receive medical attention. However, police evidence to the Coroner’s Court suggested that the bodies were left for some time before being taken to hospital. In his original statement to investigators, Senior Superintendent of Police Adams said that the “injured persons” were removed between 4.45 and 5.15am. All the statements made by police officers suggest that the incident was over by around 5am, with references to the “injured” men being “rushed” or “immediately taken” to hospital. One police driver said in his statement that he was instructed to take the men to hospital at approximately 5.30am.AI 2003 Braeton report quote

However, there is clearly a discrepancy of around 40 minutes or longer in the time of departure from Braeton and arrival at the hospital. The men were not documented as arriving at the hospital until approximately 6.20am. A statement by another police driver clearly suggested a delay before they were taken to hospital: “I heard loud explosions that sounded like gunshot, this lasted for some time. About an hour later I was instructed by SSP [Senior Superintendent of Police] Adams…to take them [three of the seven] to hospital.” Another police driver testified before the Coroner’s Court that a journey from Braeton to Spanish Town Public Hospital, in a police car with the sirens on, took 10 minutes at that time of day. Television journalist Michael Pryce told the Court that the police took some time to remove the bodies and that they were loaded into police jeeps “between 6.10 and 6.25/6.30am”.

It is clear from the statements given by various sources, including numerous police officers, that the dead men were not taken to hospital immediately following the incident. In the unlikely event that the men were not dead, the police would have been derelict in their duty for allowing them to die without prompt medical treatment. However, the more likely scenario is that the seven were obviously dead, given the severity of their wounds, and that the police therefore knew medical treatment was not required. In such an event, the appropriate action for the police would have been to leave the bodies wherever they fell, for the investigators to photograph and collect forensic information. (pp 11-12)

Amnesty International – March 2003 Report – Jamaica -The Killing of the Braeton 7

(Six policemen were later charged with murder in the Braeton Seven case, but were acquitted at trial in February 2005.)

In the INDECOM release, Commissioner Williams speaks about an erosion in credibility of police accounts of rushing injured people to hospital. He speaks about damage to the reputation of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) locally and internationally. He speaks about the need for the police to act with professionalism and respect. He is correct.

Will Police Commissioner Carl Williams have anything to say on this matter?