By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party Leader Philip “Brave” Davis said Coroner’s Court inquests into police-involved killings – which have been halted since March 2020 because of COVID-19 – must quickly resume.
His comment yesterday came as the country recorded another police-involved killing on April 2 – at least the fourth police-related killing this year. In the latest case, the Royal Bahamas Police Force said a suspect fired a gun at police during a foot chase. Police returned fire and fatally wounded the man, the RBPF said.
According to a legal notice released in February, inquests at the Coroner’s Court were supposed to resume last month.
However, The Tribune understands that officials are waiting for plexiglass barriers to be erected throughout the courtrooms to ensure compliance with health and physical distancing protocols.
Mr Davis said “we ought to be concerned” about the backlog of inquests.
“The coroner herself might raise the alarm about the inability to function,” he said. “If she doesn’t, you expect the government, that someone has to pay attention to ensuring that the court becomes operational.”
The Coroner’s Court has a history of facing a significant backlog of police-involved killing cases and some lawyers say the court is usually among the last to get what it requires.
After this newspaper reported on the longstanding issues with inquests in 2017, Attorney General Carl Bethel said there were about 28 outstanding police-involved killing cases requiring an inquest, adding that he found the delays “distressing” and “unacceptable.”
Progress soon emerged. Eighteen inquests were held between January 2018 and June 2019, three of which resulted in unlawful killing rulings and one of which resulted in an open verdict finding. The other killings were deemed lawful.
The Bahamas recorded 11 police-involved killings in 2017, 2018 and 2020 and has one of the highest per capita rates of police-involved killings in the world––higher than the United States.
Mr Davis said a prompt investigation of the deaths is needed to ensure public confidence in law enforcement.
“The issue of police killings is really disturbing and requires some attention by what I call the political directorate,” he said.
“One of the fundamental pillars upon which the efficacy of any police force rests would be the confidence that the general public would have, recognising that the policy force is supposed to be the guardian and protector of persons, their safety, and to ensure that the peace is not breached. If the general public has no confidence in the police force, we are truly headed to anarchy and some attention has to be paid on these matters. When you consider our per capita as a nation, it is alarming that we are unable to get to the root of it and I think part of it is because of the lack of confidence Bahamian people have in law enforcement. If there is a police killing, a quick resolution of any concern that might arise should be pursued or else problems will linger.”
Mr Davis suggested that because of his background, he would approach the issue differently from previous administrations if elected Prime Minister.
“My experience and background in matters relating to the administration of justice will definitely have some positive impact on matters such as this,” he said.
Youel Johnson, a lawyer and former superintendent of police, said timely inquests are important, but so too is a system that does not let police investigate police-involved killings.
“My concern is that the information the coroner has to determine findings rests on what the police gives them,” he said yesterday. “If the police is involved in the shooting and they are involved in the investigation, the coroner would only have the information that they give them. If I’m the police officer investigating it, do you think I would offer evidence to charge myself? I say no. As a country there needs to be more concern that we have had too many police killings recently and they go mostly unexplained to the public as far as I’m concerned.”
Asked what his experience as an officer taught him about how police-involved killings are investigated, he said: “I am well aware that police officers are citizens of the Bahamas and they make mistakes and if you leave it up to me to cover my mistakes, I will cover my mistakes. That’s the long and short of it and that’s why I say police shouldn’t investigate police.”