By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
A FORMER police officer’s claim that for decades the Royal Bahamas Police Force has falsified reports, beaten suspects for confessions and sent innocent people to prison was denounced by National Security Minister Marvin Dames and Police Commissioner Anthony Ferguson.
Mr Dames said the former officer, Bernard Swann, was never an investigator and lacks the credibility to discuss the investigative tactics of the RBPF. He said the man served in the 1980s to his knowledge. Commissioner Ferguson, insisting officers do not falsify reports, said he has nonetheless dispatched a team to investigate the matter.
Mr Swann made his comments in a recording which were circulated on WhatsApp and Facebook. He told The Tribune he has received numerous threats since the recording went viral and he referred this newspaper to his lawyer, Wayne Munroe, rather than elaborate on the claims himself.
He said in the recording: “. . . Let me be straight up with you, you and I are both former police officers. Don’t try to tell none of these naive people in this chat that your hands clean because that’s (expletive) nonsense. You send people to jail because you fix reports, I know I did.
“When my partners wanted to send people to jail and they didn’t do their proper investigation, we lied to cover and people went to prison,” he claimed. “You did it and I did it and ain’ a single police officer in this job today or in our history who didn’t do that. Don’t come here talking that nonsense ‘bout your integrity…what integrity?
“Where you get integrity from? Ain’ no police officer get no integrity. They lie and send people to jail all the time. We do it all the time. We beat people, force the confessions, go to court lie and send them to jail. I don’t know who you think you talking to but 1414 was my number, Bernard Swann is my name, I used to work in radio and transport in the echoes, every shift we had competition among ourselves, somebody got to go to jail.”
Mr Dames called the allegation of continuous falsifying of reports “ridiculous” and said the voice note shows the danger of social media.
“As far as I’m aware this person may have served sometime over the early ‘80s and certainly before my time in the organisation,” he told reporters. “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. He may have been speaking for himself. To make such a general statement like that really speaks to maybe the person that he is.”
Commissioner Ferguson said: “I heard the voice note and I’ve intended to dispatch a team to conduct an investigation into it. I’d be interested in knowing what it is that he really is saying to see if there is any truth to it. There’s no reason that you would find a sensible individual falsifying a report to send someone to prison.
“Don’t get carried away by someone waking up one morning and making a statement. Investigations that come from the Royal Bahamas Police Force are very thorough. A lot of those investigations comes from police and goes to the Attorney General’s Office and the evidence is overwhelming and you would see the results from court. A person in defence of themselves is free to make any allegation they want to make, you cannot stop them, but the police is very thorough in their investigations.”
Not only are allegations of forced confessions common but courts have also sometimes found them to be merited. Just last month the Court of Appeal overturned a man’s armed robbery conviction and sentencing after appellate judges determined that police beat the man to force a confession, making the evidence acquired because of that confession inadmissible.
Justice Jon Isaacs wrote in the ruling that the trial judge could have “harboured no doubt about the reliability of the appellant’s allegations of abuse” because there was “ample evidence of injuries he received while in custody.”
In February, The Tribune reported on the lawsuit of three people in Eleuthera who claim they were tortured for armed robbery confessions before they were released without charge. The trio claim they were ‘fish bagged’ until they could not breathe. One of them claims police poured hot sauce into his eye for which he continues to suffer debilitating effects. Their lawsuits are pending.
Also in February, Shavar Bain, a man whose son was kidnapped, alleged police tortured him to confess that he played a role in his own son’s kidnapping. Mr Bain was released from custody without charge.
In March, attorney Christina Galanos recorded and released a four-second video showing her client bent over in distress and being taken into an ambulance outside the Central Detective Unit after he was allegedly beaten to force a confession. Many defence lawyers, and even some top legal officials in previous administrations, have told The Tribune in the last six months that torture for confessions is a genuine problem in the Bahamian justice system.
For his part, Mr Munroe said rather than be treated as compelling news, Mr Swann’s voice note should spark a conversation about authorities’ failure to adequately protect the public from police misconduct.
“We’ve had judgements to say that police beat confessions out of people so why is someone saying they do it so surprising?” he said. “We’ve gotten judgements with damages for people who say police have beaten them. We’ve had cases where Supreme Court judges have rejected police evidence as concocted, same thing at the Court of Appeal, same thing with the Privy Council, so why is this surprising, unless we’ve been asleep all this time?
“If we want to focus on beatings, the important questions are how far along are they with their body cameras and are we using technology the way they should be used? If you want to address beatings for confessions, I wouldn’t be focusing on what Swann said, I would be asking the minister why is it that we don’t videotape all interviews in custody?”
Police often interview suspects on camera but much to the chagrin of defence lawyers, the interrogation process prior to the interview is not filmed.
Mr Swann’s comment prompted activist group Rights Bahamas to demand an investigation even if it means establishing a Commission of Inquiry.
“If even some of the claims by the former officer in question are true, the consequences are truly terrifying,” the group said in a statement. “Furthermore, considering his insistence that such grossly fraudulent policing has been the norm for years, the officer in question should be extensively interrogated by the Attorney General’s Office and the director of public prosecutions with a view to identifying other officers who may have also committed such heinous acts. We stress that this is a matter of grave significance; the officer is taking about a widespread conspiracy to deprive innocent people of their liberty by officers of the state.
“This must be investigated vigorously and comprehensively and the chips must be allowed to fall where they may. If it means bringing in foreign investigators to ensure objective, so be it. If what this officer says is true, the matter easily qualifies as worthy of a Commission of Inquiry.”