Fri | Jan 21, 2022

Army denies charges of mistreating ex-private

Published:Saturday | February 20, 2021 | 12:06 AMAshley Anguin/Gleaner Writer


The Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) has denied allegations made by a then lactating woman private that she was subjected to inhumane treatment in a military jail before being discharged on medical grounds after bouts of depression.

Chaneque Gardener, however, has countercharged that she was dismissed without justification.

In an interview aired on Nationwide News Network on Tuesday, Colonel Rohan Johnson, the JDF’s legal officer, and Captain Colleen Weise, said the army’s actions were consistent with its regulations.

“There is no perfect time to be imprisoned,” said Weise in reference to Gardener’s jail time while breastfeeding. “Ms Gardener’s case is not much different from how our military justice system operates.”

The military justice system aligns with the civil jurisdiction in the detention of pregnant or lactating mothers, the officials said.

Emails from The Gleaner to the JDF have gone unanswered.

However, Gardener, who was discharged from the army last September, has complained about perceived infractions, including being locked up while she was breastfeeding her newborn and being sent to two psychiatric facilities because her mental health came under scrutiny.

Gardener said her problems with the army started when she was diagnosed for depression, for which she was hospitalised at the JDF’s medical centre.

“I told them the medication was making me sick but they ignored me. It was when I started vomiting blood and became unconscious that they finally started listening to me,” said Gardener.

The former private said she was shocked she saw correspondence in a military-aligned WhatsApp group that she had tried to commit suicide. She insists that claim is false.

“I went to my commanding officer to get an explanation and to demand an apology, but after four weeks, I realised that nothing was being done,” she said.

Gardener sought audience with Chief of Defence Staff Lieutenant General Rocky Meade but was later accused by her supervisor of breaking the chain of command. She was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to seven days in military jail.

Still breastfeeding

At the time, Gardener had just returned from maternity leave and was still breastfeeding her three-month-old baby.

But the army has denied her allegations on the reasons for her detention.

“The offence for which Ms Gardener was sent to the red fence did not relate to her breaching the chain of command. She was given extra duties for breaching the chain of command. That was like giving her an extra shift,” added Weise.

Gardener claimed that medical personnel had recommended that her punishment be modified because of the possibility of safety issues as a lactating mother.

“The same place where I defecate and urinate was the same place where I had to expel the milk, which was later taken to my baby,” said Gardener.

“The cell was not properly sanitised and I had to use a bucket to defecate … . There were a lot of flies.”

Gardener was released from lock-up but later sent for treatment at Ward 21 at the University Hospital of the West Indies and Bellevue Hospital.