P.M. Criticized

COP Francois: ‘My Conscience Is Clear’

POLICE Commissioner Vernon Francois & Leader of the Opposition Dr. Gail Rigobert
POLICE Commissioner Vernon Francois & Leader of the Opposition Dr. Gail Rigobert

THERE’S been a lot of reaction to Prime Minister Kenny Anthony’s Sunday night address on the IMPACS report of an investigation into alleged extra judicial killings by members of the Police Force.

In fact, Anthony has come under criticism from several persons including Leader of the Opposition Dr. Gail Rigobert and human rights attorneys Mary Francis and Martinus Francois who both expressed disappointment with the content of the Prime Minister’s statement and the fact that the report would not be made public.

Rigobert thought that Anthony’s address had damaged the morale of the Police Force describing it as “wholly irresponsible and lacking wisdom.”

She said Anthony had compromised the national security of the state, and threatened the chance of realizing “the very justice that we would all like to see”

As far as Rigobert is concerned, Anthony should have sent the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions without comment,” adding: “We cannot validate the contents of the report as revealed by the Prime Minister if we do not have the benefit of the full content of the report”.

Police Commissioner Vernon Francois said his “conscience is clear” as far as the conclusions of the IMPACS investigation is concerned.

In 2013, the St Lucia government enlisted the help of the Jamaican police to investigate the RSLPF following a decision by the United States to withdraw security related assistance to the local police force after claims of human rights violations.

At least 12 people were killed by police during the period 2010-12 as they reacted to an unprecedented wave of homicides and violent crimes on the island.

Anthony in his radio and television broadcast Sunday night said that the investigators had found that a “blacklist or death list” existed and that the police had staged “fake encounters” to legitimize their actions. He said the investigators had recommended that “all police officers involved in the unlawful killings of citizens in respect of the files reviewed must be prosecuted”.

But Francois denied suggestions that he had turned a blind eye to wrongdoing by his officers even as the report suggested “wilful blindness” by the Commissioner and “particular members of his management team”. Francois, who is now on vacation leave, told reporters that he jealously guards his integrity and was not involved in anything remotely corrupt or unlawful.

“I was hoping that we would have been at the stage where definitive statements would have been made about dealing with the situation as it relates to the government of St Lucia and the United States, but we are still at the stage where a lot of unproven allegations are being made,” the Police Commissioner said.

According to Francois, there was need to move beyond the stage where people are still “staying in the dark under the bushes” and making allegations. “It is time to provide evidence,” he said, citing the need for the laws of natural justice to be set in motion.

Francois said that in his role as Police Commissioner, he was not engaged in supervising police investigations. “If there is a police related shooting I do not get involved in the investigation and the files would be referred to the DPP,” he said, pointing out that at no time had there been any complaint to him suggesting that something had gone wrong. He challenged anyone to come forward with information that he was told about irregularities and did nothing about it.

“My conscience is clear,” he added.

In his address, Anthony said that the report, a copy of which has been sent to the United States, would not be made public. He said that his administration would not be making any statement regarding the guilt or innocence of the police officers involved and “the question whether anyone is to be prosecuted is solely for the Director of Public Prosecutions to determine after evaluating and assessing the probative value of the evidence placed before her.

“Likewise, it is for the courts to pronounce on the innocence or guilt of any person who may be charged. The most that the executive arm of the government can do is to provide the resources to the Director of Public Prosecutions to carry out the duties and the responsibilities assigned to her by our Constitution. A copy of the report has now been made available to her.”

But human rights attorneys Martinus Francois and Mary Francis said they were disappointed with the content of the report and the decision not to release the document to the public. “It said very little,” said Francois, the brother of the embattled police commissioner, accusing the government of double standards.

He said on the one hand the administration appeared to be concerned about human rights, while at the same time the report on the investigation into the killings had been “hidden away” from the public. Francois said that the address by the Prime Minister was lacking in substance. He also accused Anthony of passing the buck,

Francois suggested that Director of Public Prosecutions, Victoria Charles-Clarke was already overburdened and asserted that a special Prosecutor should have been appointed.

He said the United States would not be impressed by the actions of the St. Lucia government. “St Lucia will continue to be mired in that unsavoury situation,” Francois said.

Francis said that she was not pleased with the tone of the report and the fact that it will be kept classified. She promised a further response later, indicating “there are so many things that came out of the report…” The human rights attorney, who is also representing the families of two of the men killed, said that the families need closure.

“The report should also tell us who bought these high-powered guns,” she said.

Leader of the small opposition Lucian Peoples Movement (LPM), Therold Prudent, accusd the government of hiding behind the report that probed the death of the 12 people.

“We don’t believe what Dr. Kenny Anthony has said to us is the whole truth. We do not believe that anything would become of the report now that it is sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions “, he said, accusing the government of reneging on its responsibility to the population.

“Unless the government decides to be forthcoming with the people of St. Lucia and allowing us the citizens of this country an opportunity to judge for ourselves, we have to accept that there is something deeper than what the government has told us,” he said.

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