I/A Commission on Human Rights, Jamaica: 12 Individual Cases of Police Impunity for Extrajudicial Executions of Civilians
The Clinic has filed 12 cases against the state of Jamaica before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as part of a targeted litigation strategy that aims to bring about widespread changes in the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of unlawful police killings on the island.
Jamaica’s rate of per-capita police killings is one of the highest in the world. Last year alone, security forces fatally shot 245 civilians. Investigation and prosecution of the killings takes 5 to 10 years on average, resulting in widespread police impunity and rampant excessive use of force.
The Clinic has identified three areas of delay that contribute heavily to this impunity: investigation and prosecution; the magistrate “Coroner’s Court”; and the trial court system, called the “Supreme Court.” Our petitions demonstrate that the deaths of these victims and the suffering of their families are due to deficiencies at each of these three levels, which operate together to shield police from accountability.
As a result, security forces enjoy virtually absolute immunity for the killings. This is both a deplorable miscarriage of justice and a gross violation of the American Convention on Human Rights, namely the Right to Life (Article 4), Right to Personal Integrity (Article 5), Right to a Fair Trial (Article 8), Rights of the Child (Article 19), and Right to Judicial Protection (Article 25), in relation to Jamaica’s general obligations under Articles 1 and 2.
Our in-country partner, Jamaicans For Justice, with whom we coordinated and prepared the petitions, represents all victims and their families before the domestic courts in Jamaica.
The Clinic’s cases target each of the three stages of delay with the goals of: 1) providing individual reparations to the family members, 2) instigating reforms in the Jamaican justice system to investigate and prosecute all cases of police-involved killings in a prompt and effective manner, and 3) enacting reforms to prevent police immunity in the future. The individual cases brought at each stage are:
1. In Spring 2013, the Clinic prepared and filed four cases that demonstrate delays and deficiencies at the investigation and prosecution stages of the proceedings. As of 2013, Jamaica was responsible for 1,900 cases involving security-force related killings. Many were stalled due to inadequate on-site investigations and backlogs in the forensic labs. Even when investigative referrals were made, the Department of Public Prosecutions took more than two years on average to decide whether to prosecute any given case – and in some instances the delay was much longer. The individual cases brought by the Clinic were:
- November 4, 2010, Mickey Hill was waiting for the bus at a street corner when he was shot multiple times by a police officer after being ordered to reach into a paper bag at his feet. Subsequently, the officers planted a weapon at the scene, threatened witnesses at the scene, and removed his body. To date, no trial has been set for this case.
- On Wednesday, January 7, 2009, Anthony Nelson and his cousin were sitting at a construction site when they were approached from behind by three police officers who shouted, “Do not move.” One officer grabbed Mr. Nelson, shoved him and shot him several times, killing him. The matter was submitted to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) on September 30, 2009 for a ruling on whether to charge and prosecute the officers involved. The matter is still pending before the DPP.
- On August 28, 2007 14 year-old Lance Zab was beat, shot and killed by police, with no apparent provocation, according to eye witnesses. The police officers then left the premises with the body of the deceased. The case was referred to the DPP on January 15, 2010 for a ruling, which is still pending.
- On September 22, 2008 13-year-old Jevaughn Robinson, barefoot and unarmed, was shot and killed by police officers from behind a wall in an open lot. The police then drove away with the body, returning half an hour later and lit a fire where the body had been removed. The matter was submitted to the DPP on April 14, 2009 for a ruling, which is still pending.
- On September 19, 2009 42-year-old Pastor Paul Wallace was approached from behind by a police officer while on a property cutting wood. The officer called out to Mr. Wallace and shot him several times from behind. The matter was referred to the DPP in December 2009 for a ruling, which is still pending.
2. In Fall 2013, the Clinic prepared and filed four more cases dealing with the “Coroner’s Court,” a magistrate court in Jamaica tasked with holding inquests into any “violent or unnatural” death. A Special Coroner’s Court was created in 2011 to respond to security force-related killings. Again, patterns of egregious error and delay have emerged. The Coroner’s Court has a backlog of 4,000 cases and a growing caseload that exceeds its annual capacity. The proceedings are rife with conflicts of interest and other irregularities. The individual cases brought by the Clinic in response to deficiencies in the Coroner’s Court are:
- On Sept. 19, 2001, 27-year-old Omar Evans was shot and killed while working as a welder at a high school construction site. Eyewitnesses reported that the police surrounded the school and said, “Matthew, don’t move.” They then chased Mr. Evans into the school’s cellar and opened fire on him. On Feb. 28, 2003, the case was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Almost six years later, on Feb. 6, 2009, the case was referred to the Coroner’s Court, where it remained as of the filing of the petition.
- On Dec. 31, 2007, police beat and then killed 44-year-old Winston Malcolm Sr. and his son, 20-year-old Winston Malcolm Jr., in their home during a military raid. The case was referred in 2008 to the DPP and in 2009 to the Coroner’s Court. As of the time of the filing, the case was stalled at the Coroner’s Court with no prospect of an inquest.
- On. Oct. 2. 2003, police fatally shot 21-year-old Anthony Scott at the sports field of a high school. The post-mortem wounds showed he was shot from behind. On Oct. 24, 2004, the case was referred to the DPP. On July 20, 2005, the DPP ruled that the case should go before the Coroner’s Court, where no progress had been made as of the time of the filing.
- On Feb. 27, 2003, police shot and killed Kevin Smith while he was moving furniture for his store. Witnesses said police chased Mr. Smith into a private home, then dragged him out and shot him in the street. The case was referred to the DPP on March 15, 2006, and less than a month later the DPP ruled it should go before the Coroner’s Court. More than a decade after Mr. Smith’s death, however, the state had failed to even set an inquest date.
3. Finally, in Spring 2014, the Clinic prepared and filed three cases addressing delays at the “Supreme Court,” or trial court, level. The Supreme Court also has a backlog of hundreds of cases, most of them murder cases. Intimidation of witnesses, ineffective juror summons procedures, and inadequate court resources all contribute greatly to the delays. The individual cases brought by the Clinic were:
- On Jan. 5, 2009, an off-duty police officer shot and killed 44-year-old Paul Brown while he was doing his job as a bus driver. The bus was stopped at a station when a white car pulled up alongside it, apparently following a minor collision, and the off-duty officer got out. He walked up to the window and shot Mr. Brown in the head without saying anything. The next day, the DPP decided that the officer should be charged with murder. A preliminary inquiry was held in October 2009, and a Supreme Court date set for May 7, 2010. The trial, however, was delayed for a number of reasons, and four years later it still has not started.
- On July 29, 2010, 27-year-old Ian Lloyd was shot and killed during an arrest. Video footage of incident shot by a bystander shows a police constable beating Mr. Lloyd while he was unarmed on the ground. Another officer then shoots and kills him while he is clearly still subdued. On Aug. 9, 2010, the officer who shot Mr. Lloyd was charged with murder. However, a trial was never held, and on March 7, 2013, the officer was acquitted on a “no-case” submission by his defense team.
- On Dec. 23, 2004, 20-year-old Kemar Walters disappeared, and his body was never found. He was last seen in front of a hardware store at a shopping center where he had been detained by police. Several news articles quoting anonymous sources claimed the disappearance was tied to a car theft ring that involved Jamaican police officers. After multiple police investigations, four officers were arrested on June 3, 2009, in connection wit the disappearance; they were charged 7 days later. The trial began in October 2012, and on Jan. 9, 2013, one defendant was found guilty by 9 jurors to 3. Under Jamaican though this should have resulted in conviction, but the judge refused to accept the verdict and ordered a re-trial. The new trial was never held.