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Impartiality key to restore confidence in the police

By TYLER MCKENZIE

THE announcement that a senior police officer has gone on garden leave after a series of accusations circulated on social media is shocking, to say the least.

The accusations were based on a series of voice notes, purportedly between a senior officer and a man previously said to be a major player in a gang, Michael Fox Jr, while another man, Dino Smith, could also be heard speaking in the background.

Now, let me be straight up here, there are things that can be said and things that – for legal reasons – cannot be said in this article. There are certain aspects of the accusations that I cannot get into here while the investigation proceeds – including any possibility of legal proceedings beyond that.

First of all, there is the statement from Commissioner Clayton Fernander.

He assured the public that he took the allegations “very seriously” and said the force was “committed to maintaining the highest standards of integrity and professionalism within our ranks”.

He said: “Chief Superintendent Michael Johnson has consented to proceed on garden leave in the first instance, pending a thorough investigation into this matter.”

Chief Superintendent Anthon Rahming will take on Johnson’s duties in charge of the Criminal Investigation Department in the meantime.

In a clarifying note, police explained that Johnson had “volunteered to proceed on garden leave”.

The note, from Chief Superintendent Chrislyn Skippings, said: “During this period, he will not carry out any of his duties with the Royal Bahamas Police Force. Gazetted officers are guided by Police Service Commission, and any form of administrative leave requires their involvement. In this case, Mr Johnson has voluntarily accepted a form of leave while the ongoing investigation takes place.”

In response FNM chairman Dr Duane Sands issued a statement saying: “Like many Bahamians, we were shocked to hear disturbing information regarding senior leaders in the Royal Bahamas Police Force today.”

He added: “While we believe in the presumption of innocence for all, the startling contents of the circulated notes have far reached implications for many investigations and the public’s view of the RBPF in general.

“While we believe the initial steps taken by the COP are appropriate, it is imperative that public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the RBPF be restored.”

Dr Sands called for international involvement in the investigation, saying: “We call on the PM and Minister of National Security to request the participation of an international law enforcement partner such as Scotland Yard or the FBI to oversee the investigation. Failing that, a full Commission of Inquiry should be convened.”

As I write this, there has been no response from either the Prime Minister or the Minister of National Security.

The background to the accusations appears to be connected to an incident in 2023 – when a reported $1,475,000 was stolen after the rear window of an unattended security vehicle was broken at an airport.

The bank security car was supposed to be transporting cash for the Bank of The Bahamas.

The two men purportedly on the call to the senior officer, Dino Smith and Michael Fox, Jr, were reportedly connected to the robbery. Both men are now dead.

Dino Smith was shot in broad daylight in a murder that shocked The Bahamas. The 30-year-old was shot dead along with a passenger, Chatere Wells, 27, as he gave her a ride to work when another vehicle pulled alongside their car on Prince Charles Drive and opened fire in January this year.

Smith had a criminal history – he had been found guilty of firearm possession, though that was overturned on appeal. His girlfriend, however, was jailed and had testified that Smith had asked her to hide a gun. Police found a .40 pistol and ammunition in a toilet tank after she used a restroom in police custody.

Smith had been a suspect in the bank security car robbery, but was released without being charged. He had been shot shortly after leaving custody – but police said that when he was questioned he refused to give information about who shot him.

Meanwhile, Michael Fox, Jr, was shot dead in Bain Town in May. According to police, he pulled up to a residence and was accosted by three masked men who opened fire with high-powered weapons, hitting him multiple times.

At the time, police said he was associated with the Outlaws gang – while unusually, in a voice note, Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell sent out a warning that his constituency could see “tit-for-tat” shootings.

He said that “the commissioner of police spoke with me this morning about a heightened state of alert in the Fox Hill area as a result of the murder of a fellow named Fox on Flemming Street.

“The police are expecting a series of tit-for-tat shootings in the area, and they will be increasing patrols in the area over the next period. Please exercise the appropriate level of caution, particularly around the public spaces and parks.”

No public warning was issued by the police at that time. Hours later, another man was murdered.

The two men on one side of the purported voice notes are dead. Two other men were accused in court in connection to the airport robbery.

Announcing an investigation and agreeing for garden leave to take place is an appropriate start to the process.

But Dr Sands is right – bringing in international investigators to join the process given the allegations surrounding senior figures in the force would be wise. Frankly, a Commission of Inquiry would not be out of place – but to start with, an impartial outside investigator would help establish how genuine the need for such a greater inquiry would be.

Impartiality is the key – although whether that could be achieved by bringing in a senior figure here such as a respected retired judge or similar is a question. It is also interesting that the FNM would make this call – is this an indication of the path they would take in power rather than in opposition?

This is a delicate matter – and the need to have absolutely clear and impartial answers is essential.

There can be no lingering cloud over whether this has been handled the right way. So far, the force has responded the right way. What the next steps are will determine how confident people can be that the force will continue to do so.

Comments

birdiestrachan 1 week, 5 days ago

I have confidence in the Bahamian police force, the question is where is all the money that was stolen find the money it will be a great start

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