Commission of Inquiry hears…Riot squad member returned different gun
- Unit Commander says squad not swabbed for gunpowder residue
- Three ranks returned less ammo than that issued
- Phone records of Rohee, Hicken to be detailed
- Commissioner to visit Linden tomorrow
A member of the riot squad that was sent to Linden to quell protests that eventually left three persons dead on July 18 returned a different gun to the one he was issued, an officer from Police headquarters testified yesterday.
Corporal Donald Harry, who is stationed at the Arms Room of the Police’s Tactical Services Unit (TSU), gave the name of the officer that returned the different weapon to the Linden Commission of Inquiry, which is tasked with determining how three Linden protestors ended up losing their lives.
Harry is tasked with documenting the issuance and return of firearms and ammunition once the TSU goes on an operation.
Of the squad that was sent to Linden, he listed four of them who returned with less of the ammunition than they were issued with.
Further, while the 14-member squad, commanded by Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Patrick Todd, returned to Georgetown on July 19, they only lodged their weapons and ammunition on July 22.
Constable Harry said that this was an “unusual” situation, as ranks are supposed to return their weapons immediately upon returning, as per Standing Operation Procedures, and if they fail to do so, they could face disciplinary sanctions.
Harry testified that the weapons eventually left the Police’s armory at Eve Leary, Kingston, for ballistic tests as part of the Police investigation into the bloody events of July 18.
The Constable testified that one officer was issued with 10 cartridges, but returned seven. Another was issued 10 cartridges and returned nine, while yet another was given 10 cartridges and returned five.
However, ASP Todd told the Commissioners that he was not tested for gunpowder residue on his hand, neither were any members of the unit that went to Linden. This was in contrast with the testimony of Police Commissioner Leroy Brumell, who testified that the men were swabbed.
It was another tough day for Todd, who kept contradicting himself, while maintaining that his action was justified.
When he was asked to describe the Wismar-Mackenzie Bridge where the three men were shot dead, Todd told the Commissioners he never walked the bridge, so he couldn’t tell. But a few minutes later, he spoke about jumping over debris that was strewn across the bridge.
In addition, Todd’s testimony was not consistent with what he had said last week on the stand regarding the first time that he warned the protestors to remove from the bridge since their assembly was unlawful.
Last week, he testified that the first time he sounded the “proclamation” to the crowd was at around sunset when he had returned to the bridge for a second time.
Yesterday, having been shown a photo of the unit in line formation (ready to sound the proclamation) he said that that would have been at around 11:00hrs in the day. Todd decided to change his testimony.
He said that he did not “order” the photo and could not tell when it was taken, even though shortly before he was confident and volunteered to say at what time of the day he was in that formation.
Todd said that he fired shots to the ground about 25 minutes after he first sounded the warning, and did not anticipate that the shots would reach the crowd. Todd had said that with a size of 800 persons, it would have taken an hour or so for the crowd to obey his order and vacate the bridge.
Upon questioning by attorney Nigel Hughes, Todd acknowledged that from where he was standing on the eastern side of the bridge, persons on the western side may not have been able to hear the warning and so could not respond.
The Unit’s Commander said that he expected that those who did hear the warning from the eastern side and were scampering towards the assembled crowd would pass on the warning.
Asked by Commissioner KD Knight what type of pistol he had, Todd described it as a pump-action pistol. But Commissioner Knight had to take Todd through a demonstration using the chairman’s gavel of what “cranking” means before Todd could admit clearly that the gun requires “cranking” to fire.
Todd said that in situations such as he was confronted with on July 18, the commander on the ground has to take a decision to abandon the “manual” and to do what is best to protect his men and minimize injury to civilians. Todd insisted that his men were being pelted with bottles and bricks by the protestors.
He said that at no time was he in contact with the Police Commissioner, but that he took orders from Senior Superintendent Clifton Hicken.
Upon request of attorney Hughes, the Commission is likely to request from the phone companies, telephone records of phones for the Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee and Hicken. Hicken had testified that he never spoke with Minister Rohee on July 18 or immediately thereafter.
Todd said it was his “deep down feeling” not to cause injury to anyone on the day of July 18, but he took a deliberate decision to use his shotgun and fire to the ground when it appeared that the tear smoke was not helping to get the protestors off the bridge.
When asked by Commissioners KD Knight and Dana Seetahal to use his experience as a guide in determining what would have been the best course of action, Todd said that returning to the Mackenzie Police Station in the first instance, when they noticed the blockage of the bridge, was a bad decision.
He said he believed if the riot squad had stayed in the eyesight of the protestors they would have desisted from doing the things they were doing.
Today, the Commissioners are expected to look at video footage of the events of July 18 as recorded by a Police videographer. Some of the video should have been played yesterday, but it was not playing on the machines the Commission had set up.
As a result, the videographer was asked to walk with his laptop today to play the video.
The Commissioners plan to visit Linden tomorrow. Hicken, Todd, the videographer and others who gave evidence are expected to be present.
It would be the first visit of the Commissioners to Linden since they started the hearings two Mondays ago.
The Commission is chaired by former Jamaican Chief Justice, Lensley Wolfe.