Attorney General Carl Bethel.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
ATTORNEY General Carl Bethel said his office is awaiting a report about an unlawful killing ruling at the Coroner’s Court last week to decide what happens next.
Five jurors found that a police officer killed Osworth Rolle, 22, on November 30, 2016 unlawfully.
Mr Bethel said yesterday: “The process involving the coroner’s finding is not yet completed. The Coroner’s Act requires that any report of a finding of the Coroner’s Court in a matter like this be sent to the Attorney General and the Attorney General will then determine whether it goes back to the coroner or otherwise and then, of course, whether to refer to it to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Pending that, the matter is not complete. We inquired into whether the report was ready last week and it was not and as of (Saturday) when I was in my office at my desk, it had not arrived at my office. As soon as the thing came out and we were alerted that a verdict had been reached, my office reached out and the report wasn’t ready as yet.”
The process involving unlawful killing rulings have confused some Bahamians who question why such findings aren’t in themselves conclusive.
Mr Bethel said: “Mistakes have been made at times so you have the scrutinising eye of the Attorney General on the matter and then a determination is made as to whether the finding can be validated. (The Coroner’s Court has) a smaller jury, it is dealing with it from a different perspective from a criminal court. The function of the Coroner’s Court is to have a factual determination about sudden deaths that occur, unexplained deaths, deaths in police custody or police shooting deaths, these sort of issues that raise the concerns of the public. It has only a preliminary fact-finding role.”
The officer responsible for the killing remains on active duty.
Last week Commissioner of Police Anthony Ferguson sidestepped calls for action to be taken against officers found to have carried out unlawful killings.
Instead, Commissioner Ferguson suggested it was not his role but rather Parliament’s to create protocols his force should follow when inquest juries find officers acted outside the law.
“The law,” Commissioner Ferguson told reporters, “mandates the commissioner to supervise the Royal Bahamas Police Force and at this stage the officer is on active duty and there is nothing that prevents him from being on active duty.”
Some lawyers believe officers in police-involved killings should be removed from street duty and should have their functions modified pending inquest findings. Such protocol exists in some other countries.
“It shouldn’t be that you kill Johnny on Monday and you back to work on Tuesday,” attorney Christina Galanos said in August after an officer received his second unlawful killing ruling in two months. “I don’t think any developed country operates like that.”
Defenders of the status quo note it could take years for an inquest to take place and even if a jury makes an unlawful killing finding, the director of public prosecutions may conclude insufficient evidence exists to pursue a criminal charge against an officer.
The Police Act gives the commissioner wide-ranging powers to create policies through force standing orders and to assign duties to officers as he sees fit, yet the police chief implied he has no power to change how such issues are handled.
“I think we have to respect the fact that we are a sovereign nation,” Commissioner Ferguson said. “We have a Parliament that makes laws. We will abide by the laws made by our Parliament.”
During last week’s inquest, the attorney for Rolle’s family, Romona Farquharson Seymour, urged jurors to consider that the police shooting was investigated by police officers, a point the coroner reiterated when she summed up the case. Bjorn Ferguson, who represented the officer who killed Rolle, has said it may be time for police shootings to be investigated by an independent party.