THERE were two shocking statements yesterday – both detailed in today’s Tribune.
The first came from a voice note circulating on social media, recorded by a former police officer, Bernard Swann, number 1414 in the police force, who said “we beat people, force the confessions, go to court, lie and send them to jail”.
He said in the note: “When my partners dem wanted to send people to jail and they didn’t do their proper investigation, we lied to cover and people went to prison. You did it and I did it. Ain’t a single police officer today or in our history who didn’t do that.”
The comments, of course, are outrageous. More than anyone else, every single honest police officer should be outraged.
The other shocking statement was the lightness with which Minister of National Security Marvin Dames took the allegations.
He dismissed Mr Swann, saying: “As far as I’m aware, this person may have served sometime over the early 80s and certainly before my time in the organisation. I never knew of him and from speaking to persons (he wasn’t) any investigator. He cannot be speaking for the force I know and that many distinguished men and women who would’ve passed through it know.”
Let’s be clear about this – Mr Swann claimed that he would beat suspects, he would falsify reports, he would lie in court, and that he was not the only officer doing this. According to him, it was widespread.
These are serious allegations. And Mr Dames can only say he “may” have served “sometime” in the early 80s? After such claims, we’d expect the minister to have Mr Swann’s personnel file on his desk the same day.
Given the sheer number of times that defendants in court even now claim they have been beaten by police, is it really so implausible that some of Mr Swann’s claims would have been true then – and that some officers might still think such behaviour might be acceptable now?
In the past months alone, The Tribune has reported on a lawsuit filed by three people who claimed they were tortured by police in Eleuthera including having a fish bag put over their head until they could not breathe. We have reported on a lawyer releasing a video showing her client doubled up in distress as he was taken to an ambulance outside the Central Detective Unit after he was allegedly beaten. We have reported on people awarded damages by the courts for being beaten by police.
So we’d expect Mr Dames to show a little more concern rather than just dismissing it as something from the past.
We’d expect him to show concern for any cases that Mr Swann might have been involved in – and to have those case files on his desk too in short order. Are there people in jail now whose cases Mr Swann was involved with?
We’d expect – in fairness – the reaction that was given by Commissioner Anthony Ferguson, pledging a team to investigate the claims and that he wanted to know the truth, though he too suggested there was no reasons anyone might falsify a report.
Too often, there are claims of abuse by police officers – and too often, it seems it is not taken seriously. The three people from Eleuthera who claimed they were tortured went through the proper police process to file a complaint – only to be told they’d run out of time for the police to act on it when the force did not respond quickly to their protest.
Mr Swann’s lawyer – while deflecting from the voice note itself – raised very good points when he asked why it is that CCTV can’t be set up throughout police stations to monitor interactions between officers and suspects. We wait too for the introduction of body cameras to record interactions on the streets.
It is past time for claims of police brutality to be taken seriously. They cannot be dismissed or shrugged off. Mr Swann’s allegations may be from years gone by – but it is not as if such claims aren’t being made here and now.
We agree with Commissioner Ferguson – we want to know the truth. And that calls for thorough investigation. Starting now.