Inquiry into Guyana police shooting begins

The Guyanese commission of inquiry into the July 18 fatal police shooting of three opposition supporters and injury to more than 20 in the bauxite mining community of Linden began in earnest this week with chief cop Leroy Brummel swearing that he never ordered officers to use live rounds on citizens and that the action of his ranks amounted to an unnecessary overkill to peaceful protestors.

Testifying before the commission that comprises retired Jamaican Chief Justice Leslie Wolfe, former Jamaican Foreign Minister and Senior Counsel K. D. Knight, Trinidad Law Professor Dana Seetahal and two Guyanese jurists, Brummel said live fire was uncalled for but he is aware that National Security Minister Clement Rohee had long developed the habit of calling junior officers directly and in doing so bypassing his authority.

He, however, denied directly knowing whether Rohee did in fact call Supt. Clifton Hicken, the interior commander, or Asst. Supt. Patrick Todd, the officer in charge of the riot police unit on the ground on July 18, but telephone records to be tendered to the commission in the coming days will show that the normally combative minister did speak to Hicken on his mobile telephone more than a dozen times in the minutes before police opened fire, according to a reliable source.

How Rohee and Hicken will be able to deny direct involvement and responsibility for the killings with tendered records is left to be seen even as Rohee is well aware that he will be called as a key witness before the commission, as his future in the government Cabinet clearly hangs on the outcome of the current deliberations.

In fact, the commissioners have already indicated plans to subpoena the records of Rohee and others directly involved in the shooting while Lindeners were protesting against steep hikes in electricity rates.

Lawyers for the deceased and the two main opposition parties that had much to do with the protests, say such records are crucial to prove the case of political orders to kill, since Hicken on the stand on Wednesday vehemently denied that the minister had called him directly while he was in command at Linden, 65 miles southwest of the city.

To the chagrin of the courtroom, Hicken, a highly favored senior officer in the eyes of the Donald Ramotar administration, even denied being in charge of the riot units on the ground, saying they were the responsibility of Chief Brummel even though he was the overall boss of all other units on duty that fateful week.

“I did not have any authority to give the riot unit coming from the tactical services unit any orders to shoot,” he said to loud grumbling in the hearing room and to gawks from retired officers.

Judging from his evidence for most of Wednesday, he threw back responsibility for all orders, including those to shoot to the commissioner, apparently because Brummel had described the actions of the men under Hicken’s command as largely reckless and “not justified.”

The deaths and injuries sparked a month-long shutdown of the town of 30,000 and a total blockade of the lone bridge across the Demerara River that provides the main access to the southern interior, where most of the country’s gold and diamond mines as well as foreign and locally-owned timber concessions are located.

Chairman Wolfe who is keeping a tight rein on long-winded attorneys both for the police and Lindeners, has said that the commission will travel to Linden to hear testimony as many victims and witnesses are known not to have much trust in the police.