PLAYING FAVOURITES? - Cops accused of unfair enforcement of Disaster Risk Management Act
Nathalie Chevez* and Tia Griffiths* say they’ve lost faith in Jamaica’s justice system, and that it’s all because of an overzealous cop who has been plaguing sections of Maverley in St Andrew, using the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) as a tool of oppression.
Moreover, the women – a shopkeeper and a bartender – are now struggling to find $80,000 between themselves to pay court fines by February 1, and add to a growing list of Jamaicans crying foul over unfair enforcement of the law by members of the constabulary.
The DRMA is the overarching legislation that addresses COVID-19 containment measures, including mask-wearing, social-distancing, gatherings and enforcement of nightly curfews – which police say account for a whopping 3,174 of a total 3,625 arrests for breaches of the DRMA between last March and January 14, this year. At the same time, cops say they have issued 993 warnings for prosecution in relation to the DRMA.
But there seems to be a blurry distinction between a police ‘order’ to comply with the DRMA, which can result in an arrest for failure to obey. A warning for prosecution, according to Jamaica Constabulary Force senior communications strategist Dennis Brooks, could be issued based on individual scenarios, including at the arresting cop’s discretion and his ability to transport and accommodate violators to and at police lock-up.
ST ANN PROBLEMATIC
“In order for there to be an arrest, you must have been issued an initial statement (order) that you did not comply with; and that is where the breach happened. A warning for prosecution might have been ‘I told you to do something, and you didn’t do it and I’m saying, ‘look here, I am warning you’,” said Brooks, further explaining that warnings could also be issued in cases where a police lock-up is overcrowded or where police resources may be more urgently needed somewhere else.
“So, it means I could arrest you tomorrow or three days from now, but I didn’t, and the case stopped there. But in any instance, the person (police) must give you an order first. There must be an order that you breached in order for the police to arrest you ... . It all depends on the nature of how the people are behaving at the time,” explained Brooks, citing St Ann, which he said was particularly problematic, recording 251 arrests and four warnings issued for prosecution under the DRMA.
Clarendon recorded 305 arrests and zero warnings for prosecution. Hanover also saw no warnings but had 355 persons arrested for DRMA breaches. In St Mary, 55 persons were arrested with zero warnings for prosecution; while in West Kingston 70 persons were arrested for breaches and none warned for prosecution.
Contrarily, Portland recorded 69 arrests for breaches yet cops there issued 357 warnings for prosecution, and Kingston East recorded 60 arrests and 501 warnings, Brooks outlined.
Each division has its individual policing methods, Brooks explained.
“The DRMA only gives us room to arrest someone when they have breached an order. If you comply with the officer, then no breach has taken place and there is no arrest that can be made,” he added, pouring cold water on allegations of unfair enforcement of the DRMA based on class and geographical location.
Last week, Chevez, a shopkeeper, and Griffiths, a bartender, saw things differently. On January 1, they said they were issued no warning before being arrested and charged for violating curfew orders.
On New Year’s Day, the nightly curfew began at 7 p.m. However, at 7:03 – as they shuttered doors to their business places – they claimed a police service vehicle sped up with flashing lights and two officers, one of them familiar, alighted.
“Him (familiar cop) just jump out and say, ‘Come, come. You know what time it is? Go into the vehicle’. It was pure aggression. There was no warning or anything. Dem carry we go down to Duhaney Park Police Station and have we down there for about two hours. After that, we got station bail and a friend came and pick we up,” recalled Griffiths, adding that her biggest nightmare was yet to come.
“We went to court on Monday and when they started reading out the file, it said that we were on the road at 11:45 p.m. My eyes dem open wide because I don’t know anything about that,” Griffiths told The Sunday Gleaner. “What would I be doing on the road at 11:45 on New Year’s Day? At that time, the police had already finished with we at the station and I’m in my bed long time. That was a blatant lie!”
Brandishing call logs to friends from whom she requested pickup from the station about 9 p.m., Griffiths said “all we trying to explain to the judge in Half-Way-Tree that the cop was lying, she wasn’t taking any talk,” and Griffiths believes the false time presented by the cops seemed to erode any leniency she could have been offered.
“Now, I have to find $40,000 and I have my two pickney without father. I have to be walking around begging two-two thousand dollars to find government $40,000 because I can’t sit down in jail leave my pickney dem for six months,” she lamented.
According to Chevez, who must also find $40,000 before February, weeks before, the arresting cop had tried to lock her up an hour early for curfew breaches. However, that time they were verbally challenged by a male customer, who pointed out that it was not yet curfew time and their actions were unlawful. Defeated, the cops drove away, but Chevez feels that encounter only stirred disdain from the officers towards operators at that section of West Main Drive.
“You said we breached curfew, and we agree that it was by few minutes. But when you go to courthouse, after you swear to serve and protect, how are you going to go beyond? You didn’t even put it at 8:00 – you reach at 11:45? When I’m in my bed?!
“I don’t think all police are bad, but when you tell such a lie for a simple thing, it makes you wonder how many people pickney you tell lie pon and send go prison?” Chevez said mournfully, reflecting on her task thus far to come up with the funds.
According to Brooks, apart from the 3,174 persons arrested for curfew breaches, 35 people were charged for operating a bar contrary to the DRMA, 21 for congregating in areas above the number allowed for gatherings. Eighty-four persons were arrested for failure to wear a mask, while 153 were arrested for hosting events contrary to the DRMA.
RASH OF VIOLATORS
An analysis of The Gleaner Archives last week revealed a rash of violators. Among them are Jones Town’s “habitual joker” Dayne Mitchell, who faced charges and public ridicule after posting a video defying curfew orders and insulting the prime minister last April; and Gregory Park Pastor Cynthia Williams, arrested for having more than 50 persons in her church, also in April.
Justice of the peace and cop Leroy Anthony Bennett was also arrested at his packed gambling house in Mount Pleasant, St Andrew, and 18 persons arrested at a party on Orange Street in Kingston. Also among those arrested is farmer Kemar Morgan of Pillar district in Manchester. He was fined $100,000 after he was out during curfew hours in June.
SOFT ON SOME
In the meantime, the State seemed to have gone soft on promoters of a party at Devon House in St Andrew, which saw massive crowds packed together in violation of DRMA measures, and towards patrons and promoters at yacht parties on Lime and Maiden cays in December.
Also, an investigation into a surprise birthday party for Olympic sprint legend Usain Bolt seems to have also fizzled, with sleuths failing to deliver a promised update on the matter last week. In September, investigators told this newspaper that a file would be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions within two weeks. Among patrons at the event were overseas football stars Leon Bailey and Raheem Sterling, who seemed to have been in violation of quarantine orders after entering the island.
“From the perspective of the Jamaica Constabulary, there is no discrepancy in how we enforce the Disaster Risk Management Act. Our primary aim is to keep the people in Jamaica safe as it relates to the spread of COVID-19,” stressed Brooks, who said there can be no sanctions against the yacht party attendees who immediately complied with police orders to disperse.
Arrests made for breaches of the DRMA Between March 2020 and January 14, 2021
o Curfew orders – 3,174 arrests
o Operating a bar contrary to DRMA – 35 arrests
o Gathering contrary to DRMA – 21 arrests
o Failure to wear a mask – 84 arrests
o Operating shop contrary to DRMA – one arrest
o Breach of home quarantine – six arrests
o Hosting events contrary to DRMA/Noise Abatement Act – 153 arrests
o Failure to maintain social distance – one person
o Offences to be clarified – 514