Whatever the final verdict in the remaining charges against the 28 alleged One Don/Clansman Gang members still in court for membership in a criminal organization and other crimes, it is clear that police and prosecutors need to look closely at how they do their job.
For what was laid bare in Judge Bryan Sykes’ observations and rebukes during the trial is not a problem of the unavailability of technology, but nothing less than the incompetence of the investigation and a permissive of the prosecution, or worse, that will legitimately raise questions about the integrity of law enforcement processes and why citizens should have confidence in the system. It also represents a profound management failure, for which the culprits must be identified and held accountable.
The question had additional resonance at the time, given the debate over whether the police should be given greater latitude in how they are allowed to conduct investigations, including imposing greater restrictions on the ability of the defendants to be released on bail.
Jamaica has a serious problem with crime and criminal violence, as evidenced by the more than 1,400 homicides committed there each year, burdening the island with one of the highest murder rates in the world, at nearly 50 per 100,000. Authorities say the vast majority of these killings are carried out by gangs vying for territory over extortion rackets, or rivalry in lottery/sweepstakes scams, with mostly foreign victims .
One of the most prominent gangs on the island is Clansman, which along with its rival, One Order, operates primarily in St. Catherine, particularly in the parish capital, Spanish Town, where it shakes up businesses and demands also payments from market vendors and transport. the operators.
One Don would be a split from Clansman, the result of internal rivalries. These are 33 alleged members of the One Don group who were brought before Judge Sykes’ court last year under the Criminal Justice (Criminal Organizations Suppression) Act, for membership in a criminal organization gang and for a series of other offences, including several murders. .
A few weeks after the start of the trial, four members of the group were freed because prosecutors admitted that they could not present any evidence against them relating to the murders and arson of which they were accused. Then, at the end of the prosecution’s case, a fifth man, who allegedly repaired guns for the gang, was released on a bid without a record. It has not been proven that he was a member of a gang or that he was in possession of an illegal firearm, the offenses with which he was charged. There was the spectacle at the time of the prosecution jostling for the judge to allow an amendment to the indictment to charge the man with knowingly providing a benefit to a criminal organization. The request was rejected.
Subsequently, several of the 25 charges against the remaining 28 defendants, including murder, were dropped, although all, including the group’s reputed leader Andre ‘Blackman’ Bryan, are still at risk of conviction. guilty of being members of a criminal organization. Some, including Blackman, must also prove their innocence on at least two counts of murder and arson.
Rulings like these are sometimes expected in cases, depending on the quality of the prosecution’s evidence and the skill with which it is challenged by defense attorneys to point out factual errors or other possible interpretations of events. However, several glaring and egregious errors by the investigators/prosecutors were evident from the outset of Judge Sykes’ questions and submissions, facilitated by the case’s bench trial format (one judge sitting without a jury) which encourages more active intervention. of the judge during the proceedings, rather than in a summary before a jury’s deliberation.
In at least two counts of murder for which some of the alleged gang members were charged, the police were unable to produce photographs of the murder scenes – a compact disc with them was lost, a hard drive with them could not be accounted for and neither could a logbook.
Warned that the prosecution hinged almost solely on an alleged ex-gang member’s assertion that these murders had taken place and their connection to the accused men, Judge Sykes suggested this amounted to an acceptance” “faith-based” information.
He said: “…[Y]You’re basically saying there’s been a homicide and the police are on the scene, no case file? … It is not possible that there is a homicide in Jamaica in the 21st century and that there is no file. So, if the police officer recovers these things (evidence from the crime scene), it must be recorded somewhere, contemporary recordings. Shouldn’t it be stored somewhere? They don’t have show records? So even if you say the photographic images are lost, the computer crashed, isn’t there even a record from the lab showing that I received these items? We know with absolute certainty that this is what the lab does, they must have records.
In response to evidence of another murder to which the gang was believed to be linked, Judge Sykes said: ‘Some people would find this to be a rather remarkable situation, in that, here we are in the 21st century , it is alleged that a person is shot and killed, she is supposed to be lying on the ground, the police arrive and there is (in court) no evidence, no photographs, no one from the scene of the crime, no investigator, nothing says that a body was found with gunshot wounds.
The technological systems are bad, but, as Justice Sykes suggested, there are redundancies. And police notes. Yet there were not the only identified failures. Among many others was this appalling violation of chain of custody best practices in a firearm that was allegedly used in multiple crimes.
This case, regardless of the end result, is a classic case study of failures in investigative procedures and, from our distance, an apparent lack of direction by prosecutors to the Gendarmerie in the preparation of cases. A lot is broken that needs fixing.