Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) seeks to address its handling of reports received by Andre Smith who made complaints to JFJ of human rights violations by the police in August 2018. This statement provides an account of the relevant complaints and how JFJ responded.
JFJ responds to reports of human rights violations. When responding to a complaint, JFJ assesses the facts to determine whether a credible human rights violation has occurred and then takes action to address the violation by seeking to enforce the law. As itemized below, JFJ received reports of different violations from Mr. Smith, which were corroborated by the courts. This is what JFJ does for any credible report of a human rights violation it receives from the public. In a democratic society, no one is above the law – not even the police.
Why did JFJ become involved?
August 2018 Mr. Smith was brought to the Port Royal Police Station. He subsequently reported to JFJ, INDECOM and the police’s own Inspectorate of the Constabulary that he had been subjected to a number of human rights violations. JFJ verified the information, and brought it to the attention of the courts for resolution.
As a human rights organization providing redress services, this is what JFJ does for hundreds of Jamaicans each year. JFJ was not made aware of any formal charges against Mr. Smith and at no point did JFJ defend Mr. Smith at any criminal trial or represent him during any investigation.
Credible report of unlawful detention brought before the court
In August 2018 JFJ received reports that Mr. Smith was being illegally detained by a police officer who had previously detained and threatened him. As JFJ does once it receives any report of a human rights violation from a member of the public, JFJ investigated the information it received. Investigations revealed that Mr. Smith was being detained at Port Royal Police Station without a legitimate reason, which is illegal. Detentions without a lawful reason violates the rights of every Jamaican to protection from arbitrary and illegal detention. On this basis, JFJ responded – without any opinion on Mr. Smith’s case, but exclusively to require that the police comply with the law.
JFJ brought Mr. Smith’s detention to the attention of the Saint Andrew Parish Court through a habeas corpus application – as JFJ has done for hundreds of Jamaicans who are detained without a reason. Notifying the court of an unlawful detention requires the police to produce a reason for detaining someone – as is required by law. When brought before the court, the police alleged that Mr. Smith was being held for an ID parade. In response, the judge ordered that the police conduct the ID parade within a specified time or release Mr. Smith. Once the court made this order, the police canceled the ID parade without any explanation and then released Mr. Smith.
JFJ’s intervention was exclusively to enforce the law. Without a lawful reason, the police cannot detain people indefinitely. Importantly, Superintendent Victor Hamilton, Head of the Kingston East Police Division, then later admitted in a Gleaner article published September 16 that Mr. Smith was not wanted for any crimes, further confirming that the actions at the time were illegal.
Credible report of denial of medical care
JFJ also received credible reports that Mr. Smith was harassed in detention and that he was being denied medical care. Facts before JFJ indicated that arising from the condition of detention, Mr. Smith had attempted suicide and faced other health issues that were being ignored.
As JFJ has done for dozens of Jamaicans, JFJ brought these reports to the attention of the Saint Andrew Parish Court for the court to assess the reports and make a decision about Mr. Smith’s access to care. After assessing Mr. Smith’s physical conditions and health needs, the court found him to be in urgent need of medical attention which was being denied. In response, the Court ordered that Mr. Smith be immediately removed from the custody of the Port Royal Police Station and sent to the medical ward of the Horizon Adult Remand Centre.
The Port Royal Police ignored this court order and did not transfer Mr. Smith from the station. Again, JFJ’s intervention was strictly to enforce the law, which requires that persons not be subject to inhumane treatment in detention, and to secure the police’s compliance with the court’s order. No one is above complying with court decisions.
Reports of police harassment
JFJ also received reports from Mr. Smith and other persons that rogue police officers had on numerous occasions entered his home without a warrant and repeatedly threatened to kill him. Mr. Smith had reported these reports to both INDECOM and the Inspectorate of the Constabulary (IOC). JFJ treats any death threats against members of the public by security forces seriously. As such, on September 19 JFJ publicly called on the Commissioner of Police and INDECOM to investigate the allegations being made against the specific police officers.
JFJ involvement was exclusively to ensure that both INDECOM and the JCF seriously investigated the allegations made against the specific officers as they are required to do.
JFJ’s mandate as human rights defenders
JFJ’s mandate is to ensure that no persons suffers human rights violations and that state actors, including the security forces, do not violate the same laws that they are sworn to uphold in the course of doing their jobs. When JFJ receives legitimate concerns about unlawful behaviour by police officers (and any other state actor), JFJ takes action to ensure that the violation stops as is required by the rule of law. In this line of work, no one is above the law.
JFJ recognizes that oftentimes, the public may interpret its response to legitimate reports of human rights violations as supporting criminal elements because those responses oftentimes involve enforcing the law against the police. However, JFJ has a responsibility to respond to credible reports in order to ensure that the rule of law is maintained and that those with power and authority do not abuse it with impunity – no matter how the public perceives the situation. While this role is thankless and oftentimes controversial, it is necessary for the maintenance of the rule of law and democracy in our society.