By Jerry Edwin
Routinely, after the carnival is over, the Royal Grenada Police Force puts out a press release giving the nation a briefing of what its officers had to contend with over the period of the largest national event. Call our post-carnival briefing a “bacchanal blotter”, the kind of crime report all police departments around the word issue to the public.
Jerry Edwin is an attorney practicing in the Caribbean and in the US. He also specializes in anti money laundering compliance.
I first read then re-read the RFPF post-carnival report confident that what I just read twice was wrong. Then I asked my wife to read it to me. At first it was not apparent to her. But as she read it a second time she grew silent and could not continue.
This one was stunning and not just for the casual manner the writer of the press release handled a major crime committed against a member of Grenada’s main law enforcement agency. I jumped out of my chair, literally, when I realized the source of the press release was the Office of the Commissioner of Police.
Headlined “Men Plead Guilty in Police Beating No Major Reports During Carnival”, it stated as follows:
“Four men who were charged with grievous harm, in connection with the beating of a police officer at Moonlight City on August 8th 2014, have been fined and ordered to pay compensation after pleading guilty. The men, Andelle Benjamin, Kerry Phillip, Darrien Patrick, and Dammion Benjamin appeared before the Grenville Magistrate Court on Wednesday and were each fined five-hundred dollars and required to compensate the victim the sum of one thousand dollars or spend 21 days in prison. Meanwhile, [t]he Royal Grenada Police Force is reporting a relatively quiet 2014 Carnival season on the crime-front. Apart from minor incidents and a few infractions of the law requiring police intervention with charges being laid, criminal activities were low.”
So four thugs grievously assaulted a law enforcement officer, admitted the attack, were brought before a magistrate, allowed to cop a plea and agreed to pay $500 each for the beating and $1,000 to the officer. Apart from that, the Commissioner’s Office said things were quiet “on the crime-front” because “criminal activities were low.”
Even if the commissioner’s press release appears to accept that our beloved Grenada is becoming a failed state, civil society must reject this press release as a dummy’s memoranda. We cannot accept this massive failure to comprehend the magnitude of this offence by the nation’s top crime fighter’s office.
That press release may as well have been written about the weather instead of a thundering challenge to law and order in Grenada.
Even if this was the only incident of criminal activity over the carnival season, standing alone, the grievous harm on the member of the police force was in fact a major crime. The way it was handled is a major screw-up demanding an inquiry at the highest level of government and severe penalties for all the offenders including those in the courts who dispensed of this matter.
The public may be cynical about the police and we all see and perhaps experience their unreliability and some maligning is deserving of some members of the Force.
But let’s be honest. When you hear the sound of breaking glass in your house at 2:00 in the morning, who are you calling? If someone threatens you and your family, promising to deliver death at your doorstep, who are you calling? Your daughter comes home with torn clothing crying and afraid to talk; someone else reaps your fruits and vegetables; a vandal breaks into your car and I bet all of us calling 911, the hotline to the Royal Grenada Police Force.
The police are our first responders when mayhem threatens. Many of us won’t take a law enforcement job regardless of the salary. However, we need dedicated people to fill these critical jobs enforcing the rules, regulations and laws of our society. Many officers should not be in the police service that is like everywhere else in life.
Some good mangoes, some rotten ones. And yes, we need to strengthen the mechanism to get bad police officers swiftly off the Force. Nonetheless, whether there are good or bad officers, Grenadians of all stripes cannot be casual about thugs attacking officers of the law.
The response must be swift. First, the writer of the press release should be sent home for an extended period of time without compensation because he or she does not recognize the gravity of their job. There is nothing routine about a gang attack on a member of the RGPF. Those who attack police officers should be thrown under, not just inside Richmond Hill prison.
Protectors of the public, even if they sometimes fail to do their job properly should never be described merely as “the victim”. When police cross the line into unlawful conduct the law should be swift and harsh with their punishment. There are laws to deal with negligent and felonious conduct by the police but we should not mix up this major crime.
This is not the time for moral equivocation.
Second, the police prosecutor who handled this case should be removed immediately. This charging instrument against the four attackers was handled as though it was a seatbelt offence!
Third, the magistrate should be removed from the bench forthwith. If the court fails to comprehend the gravity of this particular crime then its vision is impaired and it is incompetent to sit. The gang of four should have been remanded; the matter transferred to the High Court, bail should have been at least $10,000 each.
Does this attack not signal the society’s fast track down the road to anarchy when neither the police force itself, nor the prosecutor, nor the magistrate nor the RFPF’s internal communications officer realizes the gravity of the alleged crime?
Ultimately, when the fences of social order are trampled, a phenomenon that is a silent creeper, we will be asking each other one day, how did it get so bad? What can we do? By that time, the social costs of restoring sanity will be too high and unthinkable.
The phrase “We the People” is overused in Grenada and conveniently played out for partisan policy disputes but hardly for its best use in bringing all our people together. However, this miscarriage of justice is too grave for partisanship and too scary to be casually disregarded.
Pure Grenada, the spectacular Spice Island, cannot embark down the road to perdition.
It is always more useful and the benefit accrues to all if we seek solutions with other members of our community rather than join the bandwagon of complainers. This is no time to lament.
Kindly permit some suggestions for immediate solutions.
Vacate the magistrate’s sentence. This is a call for the four criminals who attacked this officer to be hauled before the High Court.
Write a new law. Call the new legislation “The Law Officer Protection and Enforcement Act”. Any person acting alone or in concert with others who, intending to cause physical harm to a member of the Royal Grenada Police Force, commits such physical harm, is guilty of a felony. Include bailiffs who serve legal process in the protected class.
A felony automatically carries a minimum one year plus one day in prison and carries a mandatory sentence. There is no judicial discretion permitted for the violators of the proposed new Act. Except for the defence of insanity and infancy, the offender of the new law cannot cop a plea, pay a fine and walk.
Privileges such as a driver’s licences are revoked at conviction and the offender will have to reapply after serving the complete sentence. Six months of mandatory community service should follow prison time. A justice should then evaluate whether the offender fully understands the gravity of the crime, expresses remorse and is ready to re-enter and abide by the norms of our society.
Here are further suggestions.
Conviction for the physical attack on a law officer is a 5th degree crime resulting in 1-3 years in prison and a fine of $3,000. If the officer bleeds, the crime is upgraded and the jail time and fine increased. Conspiring with others to attack a policy officer is a 4th degree crime with 3-5 years in prison and a fine of $5,000 for each co-conspirator.
Striking an officer with any object intending to cause harm is a 3rd degree felony with 7-10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Chopping an officer is a 2nd degree felony with 15-10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Shooting an officer is a 1st degree felony with 20-25 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Cause the death of an officer in other than negligent circumstances and it’s a life sentence. Mitigating and aggravating factors can reduce or increase the sentence.
My fellow attorneys, whether in the criminal or civil bars more enlightened than this writer, should lend their opinion to these suggestions so that the proposed new law is fair and protective of citizen’s constitutional rights.
But none of us, lawyers or labourers, can just stand by and accept the result handed down by this magistrate in Greenville for the gang attack on a police officer.
It was not only the officer who was grievously harmed. All of us were assaulted in this sad event. But we cannot weep and not act.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. We don’t have to treat officers like they are above the law, instead they must be held to stricter standards of conduct than the ordinary citizen because of the awesome power they hold. The new law should contain applicable safeguards.
But when the thugs come for the police officer and we say and do nothing, who will we turn to when those thugs come for us?
PS: No politics please.