Apr 05, 2016 News
-tearful prisoner blames Deputy Director for deadly fire
By Rehanna Ramsay
“Lock the door and leh deh bun,” are words etched in the memory of murder accused, Kenneth Griffith, who recounted the utterances allegedly made by Deputy Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels on the morning of the deadly fire at the Camp Street Prison.
Samuels was sent on six weeks leave with immediate effect in the wake of the catastrophic fire that claimed the lives of 17 inmates at the Camp Street Prison earlier last month.
Following the incident Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, said that this decision was taken following concerns raised by the prisoners themselves.
“Samuels will be on leave for the next six weeks from that environment,” he said. “(This is) for good reason as a result of the perspective of the Director of Prisons, myself and also (Minister Joseph) Harmon. We think this is a necessity at this stage.”
Yesterday Griffith, an inmate at the Camp Street Prison facility for the past three years, gave an emotional account of the March 3, 2016 occurrence when he testified before Commission of Inquiry, (COI) established to inquire into the disturbance.
The Prisoner told Counsel for the Commission, Excellence Dazzell, that he is currently housed at Capital C of the Georgetown Prisons; an area located beneath where the fire consumed 17 inmates.
Griffith recalled that on the night before tragedy struck, he was watching television when commotion from outside his cell, drew his attention.
He said that from all appearances it was “like dem boys was lighting a fire” in the prison block. However, he said that he remained calm because he knew that “Officer Pilgrim” would take care of it; he would call in the fire department to contain the blaze.
Questioned about fires, the prisoner explained that the inmates would set their mattresses alight to capture the attention of the media. He said that there were occasions that the prisoners would seek to have the media shed light on the problems they were facing behind the walls of the Camp Street Prison.
Griffith recalled that he slept peacefully on the night of March 2 but the following morning pandenomuim broke out.
He recounted that the prison officers were conducting a search on Capital A of the Prison. The search, he said, was led by Deputy Director of Prisons Gladwin Samuels. The officers were clad in the prison task force uniforms and formed two lines as the prisoners came out in fives to be searched.
Griffith told the commission that Samuels instructed the wardens to search “Collison” and they “snatched,” him but he (Collison) retaliated.
The witness told the panel that there was a scuffle and the wardens lifted “Collison and carried him away while the other inmates turned back and went into the cell at Capital A.
A tearful Griffith recounted that he saw thick black smoke emanating from Capital A of the Prison block.
The witness said that Samuels then inquired whether the wardens had lit the fire and after the officers responded “No” he (Samuels ) instructed them to lock the door and let the prisoners burn.
“Well y’all ain’t light no fire? Come down and lock the door… Lock the door and leh deh sk**t bun,” said Griffith as he recalled the instructions of the Deputy Director Of Prisoners. “
According to him, Samuels had a gun in his waist which might have prevented the officers from going against his order.
The inmate said that as he listened to the cries of “murder,” from fellow prisoners, he pleaded with Samuels to open the door and let the men out.
“Where Mr Samuels was standing it wasn’t too far from me. I said Mr Samuels regardless of wuh, is people like yuhself, open the door and let dem man out,” the man stated.
He recalled that was only after the Officer in charge of Camp Street Prison, Kevin Pilgrim, was alerted that the ranks made efforts to rescue the men locked in the burning cell.
“I don’t know what it is that Mr Pilgrim told the officers but they picked up hose and run up the step,” he recalled.
However by this time, the witness said that most of the men were already burnt alive.
He noted that after the fire was somewhat contained and the men were being carried out of the block “their flesh was already coming off the bodies. “
Griffith held that the incident would have played out differently had Mr. Samuels not told the officers to lock the door.
While under cross examination by Attorney for the Prison Service, Selwyn Pieters the witness maintained that he had been truthful to the commission.
Griffith was not the only prisoner to testify before the three-member COI yesterday. Camp Street Prison inmates Trevor Williams and Collis Collison were also summoned before Commissioners Justice James Patterson, former Director of Prisons Dale Erskine and human rights activist, Merle Mendonca at the Ministry of President Public Service Department to conclude their portion of evidence.
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