Jamaica court rejects cops' challenge to panel

AP News
Posted: May 02, 2012 8:51 PM
Jamaica court rejects cops' challenge to panel

Jamaica's Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously rejected a motion by police officers challenging the powers of an independent commission that investigates abuse allegations against the Caribbean island's security forces.

Eight policemen challenged charges brought against them by the Independent Commission of Investigations for failing to cooperate with the government-formed panel as it investigated the fatal shooting of two men in August 2010.

The court ruled that the commissioner acted within the scope of his authority.

The commission called it a "major victory" that means it can compel police or any other person to give statements or answer questions as part of an abuse probe.

Commissioner Terrence Williams described the judgment as a welcome development since his investigators have had "great difficulty in getting statements promptly or at all" from officers involved in suspected abuse.

"The taking of life by members of the security forces or other agents of the state cannot be taken lightly," Williams said.

The previous government, which was led by the Jamaica Labor Party, created the independent commission about a year and a half ago.

In a report to Parliament last year, the commission complained that investigations of alleged brutality by agents of the state were often plagued by delay, inertia and a lack of resources.

Human rights groups have long asserted that a culture of impunity has given police in Jamaica a shoot-first mentality. There were 211 reported killings by police last year, 69 fewer than the official tally of 2010.

Most police killings occur in gritty neighborhoods that are seldom seen by tourists who flock to the island's scenic beaches. The areas are usually densely populated slums and shantytowns where violence is common.

Police commanders say complaints about extrajudicial killings are overblown by activists and argue that many officers work in difficult environments and are threatened by the enormous number of illegal guns on the streets.

Earlier this year, police representatives called for Williams to resign after he appeared at a press briefing with a human rights group amid an upsurge in slayings by police. They complained that his presence at the briefing, even though he remained neutral, compromised his impartiality.


David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd