Commission of Inquiry hears … Hickens instructed ranks to fire shotguns to scare protestors
By Zena Henry
Lindeners committed acts that threatened the lives of the police ranks deployed to the area, Senior Superintendent of Police, Clifton Hicken, said yesterday.
The former Divisional Commander was at the time responding to questions during the ongoing hearings of the Commission of Inquiry into the July 18th protests in Linden which led to the shooting death of three persons.
Hicken said that he received reports from the commander of the Tactical Services Unit (TSU) ranks, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Patrick Todd, that the crowd was being disorderly and he instructed the riot squad leader to use his necessary training to clear the Mackenzie-Wismar Bridge of the protestors that had congregated there.
Hicken was answering questions posed by Commissioner K.D. Knight (SC), who is part of the five-member team appointed to address the Linden events where three men were killed.
Earlier, Hicken had said that at no time did the protestors act in a manner warranting the use of lethal force. He later claimed that he could not say whether the situation in Linden had called for the use of such force, but concluded that from reports, the protestors’ actions justified the use of weapons.
Hicken opined that a shotgun was not a lethal weapon, but had earlier stated that he could not say whether the gun was deadly. The Commander later changed his mind when Senior Counsel Knight alluded to a statute defining a lethal, barreled weapon. The former E&F Commander explained that based on his experience, the use of that weapon would have been justified, given the threatening reports.
No ranks shot
When asked about the threats, Hicken said firearms other than those of the police were being discharged while the crowd chanted. He explained that around 17:05 hours on the day in question, the unit commander (Todd) claimed that there were explosions, presumed to be gunfire, and he thus used tear smoke against the crowd. Hicken, however, revealed that none of the ranks reported being shot at.
Hicken later stated that bird pellets were used during the Linden protest and that police ranks, because of their training, did not shoot directly into the crowd. He said that he could not conclude how the three protestors were shot and killed, since the cartridges used during the protest were bird pellets which “weaken” after reaching certain distances.
The senior officer later stressed on the unruly behaviour of the Linden protestors. Commissioner Cecil Kennard questioned Hicken as to where that information was located in his statement. After reading a short insert from his statement, Hicken admitted that he spoke indirectly about the protestors’ disorderly behaviour.
On Wednesday, Hicken had made it clear during his testimony that he was not responsible for the ranks that were deployed from the city. This included Assistant Superintendent of Police Patrick Todd.
Hicken had previously claimed that he had no authority over the TSU ranks. It was, however, heard yesterday that he briefed Todd and another officer to use their shotguns if the need arose.
During questioning from Attorney-at-law Nigel Hughes, the Senior Superintendent said that at his level as Commander of E&F Division, he could authorise the use of lethal weapons. He, however, said that he only told one rank under his command to use the weapon.
Hicken went on to say that an officer named English called him to say that a Government building was on fire and that ranks could not access the building because of the protestors. It was at that point, Hicken said, that he told English to discharge rounds in the air to cause persons to remove from the area.
“He (English) was the only one authorised to use weapons,” Hicken declared. But after being shown his statement, the senior rank admitted giving instructions to TSU Head Patrick Todd, permitting the use of the shotgun.
When asked, Hicken said he was not given authorisation by the Police Commissioner to use the shotgun. He claimed that it was not an order – his instructions – but part of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of the force.
Meanwhile, Hicken described his workmates, Asst. Sup. Patrick Todd, Commissioner of Police (ag) Leroy Brumell, Officer English and Constable Colin Rodney as being professional policemen. Hicken told Hughes that he would use the word “honest” to describe himself, but said he could not do the same for his colleagues since there are certain procedures to determine whether an officer is honest or not.
Hicken denied commenting to Todd, “What little bit of store (weapons) Linden send y’all with and dem know y’all coming so far.” Hicken claimed that he never said those words despite Todd’s statement being shown to him.
Toward the end of his questioning, Hughes suggested to Hicken that between 16:30 hours and 20:00 hours on July 18, he was in contact with Home Affairs Minister Rohee via cell phone at least 10 times. Hicken denied the claim, and Hughes opted to wait until telephone records are brought to the hearing before any further questions on the issue.
Government had agreed to the Commission after part of an agreement to end the month-long protests which, in addition to the lives lost, saw several buildings burnt and roads to the hinterland being blocked.