PM: Coroner’s Inquest is an independent inquest
June 26, 2009
PM: Coroner’s Inquest is an independent inquest

This country’s Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has continued to resist calls being made by the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) for an investigation, other than the Coroner’s Inquest, into the recent shooting deaths, at the hands of police, of three young men at Vermont.{{more}}

At a candlelight vigil held in Vermont on June 17th, in honour of the three slain men, Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace said that the only way families of the men will gain justice for their love ones was through “an independent enquiry instead of a Coroner’s Inquest.”

Dwayne O’Brian Herbert, 29, a Barbadian fugitive wanted for murder in his country, and Asborn Nickie and Brezen Frederick, 20 and 23 respectively of the Vermont area, were killed on May 28th.

Eustace, who has repeatedly made the call, again questioned the Prime Minister on his position, asking him to explain from a legal perspective if it was possible to hold “an independent enquiry” in addition to the Coroner’s Inquest into the incident.

Gonsalves again insisted that the Coroner’s Inquest is an independent inquest, and accused Eustace of taking a side in the matter before the inquest has been held.

“The Opposition Leader has obviously taken a side already before there is any inquest heard on the evidence, and that side is not the side of law and order,” Dr Gonsalves said in parliament.

He used the opportunity to challenge Eustace on his insistence on an alternative inquiry.

Gonsalves said that during Eustace’s time in government, as Minister of Finance and later Prime Minister (June 1998 – March 2001), eight persons died at the hands of the police and Eustace did not ask for a different type of inquiry.

Gonsalves further noted that inquests or legal action had only been taken in four of these cases by the time Eustace had demitted office.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister pointed out, that two and a half year period saw the most police killings for the fifteen years between 1984 and 2009.

From 2001-2008, there were seven police killings and Coroner’s Inquests have been heard in four of these instances.

Gonsalves used the opportunity to stress that the Coroner’s Inquest is an independent inquest, and pointed to several characteristics which he said prove this.

These include the fact that inquest is presided over by a magistrate, while a different inquest will have to be presided over by someone selected by him. Additionally, when the inquest is completed, the Director of Public Prosecution can order a further investigation. Also, the five-man jury is selected the same way jurors are selected for High Court maters, unlike in times past when the jurors were selected by the police.

In a press conference on Tuesday, June 23rd, Gonsalves again elaborated his position.

He was responding to a question on the heels of another police killing; this time of a St Lucian national, Ernest Marthe, who was shot to death in Fancy, the morning of Sunday, June 21st.

The Prime Minister said that while he is sensitive to the loss of life and wishes that no one will lose their life that way, this sensitivity must be balanced with his role as Prime Minister and Minister of National Security.

He said that since the recently concluded anti-crime initiative, dubbed Vincy Pac, there may be some who may want to “test the boundaries of the police authority”.

He again stressed that it was in a Coroner’s Inquest that the questions as to the circumstances surrounding such a death would be answered.

“Now if there is no Coroner’s inquest, well then you can probably agitate and say well why a Coroner’s Inquest isn’t being held…as in fact I see the mother of “Suicide” Alexander is asking a question that I consider to be legitimate. What has happened to the matter of an inquest into the death of my son?” Dr Gonsalves said.

“Why can’t they be fair with me? What did Kemasha do to deserve this?” is what a brokenhearted Lovedear Alexander asked when she spoke to SEARCHLIGHT in an article that appeared in the June 12th edition of the publication.

Kemasha “Suicide” Alexander was killed on October 16th, 2008 by police, and his mother is demanding that a Coroner’s Inquest, the process which is being so heavily touted by Gonsalves, be held, so that the truth can come out about her son’s death.

She is not buying the police account of the incident. (KJ)