IMPACS: The Deadly Fallout

I have to admit,” said Saint Lucia’s prime minister during a televised address on 20 August 2013, “that the conduct of this exercise has not been easy for the members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. It has pitted officer against officer, led to finger-pointing, accusations and counter accusations. The decision has undoubtedly undermined the morale of the police force and tarnished it reputation.”

Acting commissioner Errol Alexander: What precisely is his role in the latest cop drama?
The exercise the prime minister referred to was the now notorious IMPACS probe into U.S. State Department allegations of “gross violations of human rights” by the RSLPF between 2010-11. As for the “tarnished” reputation of the local police, as far back as 2003 the prime minister had referred to “a survey of residents across the country” that revealed “70 percent of the Saint Lucian population are not satisfied with the performance of the police.” He said the lack of confidence in the police was especially evident in his constituency Vieux Fort and Castries. He took the opportunity to cite a distraught mother’s allegations that a police officer had assisted her son’s escape from prison. The officer had also provided him with a firearm. The police later fatally shot the escapee.

Where has Errol Alexander gone? Has the Acting Commissioner lost his voice to the DPP’s thunder?

“If the allegations are true,” the prime minister conjectured at the 30 January 2003 launching of a Nation-wide Survey on Fear of Crime and Community Policing in Saint Lucia, “it confirms the view of the public that there is widespread corruption in the police force.”

To return to the prime minister’s televised address of August 2013, during which he referenced the earlier mentioned U.S. allegations: “The government of Saint Lucia is clear that the speculation about these so-called extra-judicial killings must be brought to an end. It is in the interest of all concerned that the full facts of what occurred be disclosed, not only to satisfy the United States but, importantly, to clear those officers whose reputations are at risk. The citizens of Saint Lucia must have confidence in those who are charged with law enforcement.”

To help bring resolution “to this unhappy episode,” the prime minister promised, the government had taken two steps: “The government has invited the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security—IMPACS—to identify three senior investigators from the region to investigate the so-called extra-judicial killings; the investigators will be asked to evaluate all available evidence and determine whether or not these matters warrant further action.”

The government would also “enact new legislation to conduct investigations of the type just proposed so as to ensure such investigations enjoy the full protection of the law and that the findings of any investigation are lawfully transmitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This measure is needed to ensure that a mechanism exists to deal with such situations in the future, should such unexplained or suspicious deaths occur.”

Two years later, the prime minister again addressed the human rights subject on TV. He confirmed he had received a report from IMPACS and that it had validated his 2011 public declaration that he had seen a police hit list associated with the deaths of twelve citizens fatally shot by police officers. Moreover, that while there had been several related inquests, the United States had made it “reasonably clear that it does not have confidence in the outcome of inquests to bring those responsible for the killings to justice. The presumption [local inquests notwithstanding!] seems to be that the killings were unlawful.”

Referencing several U.S. State Department sanctions, including the suspension of funds for the police, the prime minister said that if they were to be lifted, “we must show proof that we are taking corrective steps to deal with the situation.”

He described IMPACS’ findings as “extremely damning.” They related “not only to officers involved [in Operation Restore Confidence] but, additionally, to members of the high command of the police who may have been involved in covering these matters.” The investigators had also reported, by the PM’s account, “all the shootings reviewed were fake encounters staged by the police to legitimize their actions.”
Even more shocking was the prime minister’s disclosure that “the crime problem in Saint Lucia is facilitated by corrupt politicians, government officials, business persons and police officers.”

He brought the curtains down on the police with the following: “The investigators also concluded that what operated during the period under review was an environment of impunity and permissiveness designed to achieve desired results. Willful blindness existed in respect of the commissioner of police and particular members of his leadership and management.”

Almost as an afterthought, the prime minister said IMPACS had recommended that “all police officers involved in the unlawful killings of citizens in respect of the files reviewed must be prosecuted.” He did not reveal the recommendations relating to the abetting business people, politicians and government officials.

Earlier the prime minister had, in a release, dismissed as mischievous published reports that Commissioner Vernon Francois had been ordered on leave. He also made it “absolutely clear that there is no intention to replace the commissioner of police.” Suffice it to say Francois is no longer a member of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. First the PSC “wrote to him, letting him know we had certain information given to us with respect to his standing and that we were considering retiring him in the public interest . . . but then some time after we got word that he was looking at or pursuing another form of exit.”

The prime minister later confirmed the failed PSC attempt to dump Francois and informed the press that the commissioner had opted to take early retirement. Crypticly, he added: “The process is ongoing . . .”

Meanwhile the bomb in the belly of the RSLPF was ticking ever louder. Errol Alexander was placed in the chair earlier occupied by Francois, albeit only to act as commissioner. Acting deputy police commissioner Frances Henry was effectively demoted. Shortly afterward she went “voluntarily” on leave. There were controversial transfers, even as the Police Welfare Association seemed to be at war with the government. Then Claudius Francis told the world via his radio show about surreptitious moves to take down the Kenny Anthony government.

He said a businessman, a group of officers and members of the opposition were conspiring against the Anthony administration. What the senate president said was soon confirmed by the prime minister himself. Indeed, the prime minister claimed he had known about the police plot long before Claudius’ revelations. As soon as the absent acting commissioner returned home, said the prime minister, he would request a thorough investigation.

This week I learned from most reliable sources that the acting commissioner had recently summoned a high-ranking officer to his quarters. But not to discuss possible threats against Kenny Anthony. Indeed, the acting commissioner openly expressed his concerns about the officer’s activities. In short, the commissioner revealed he had good reason to believe fellow officers had targeted the particular officer because they believed he had ratted on them, to the IMPACS investigators, the prime minister and the minister for home affairs.

The acting commissioner was brutally frank: “You have to be careful. You have to understand, if these allegations are true, what we are going to encounter within the RSLPF. Your duties are not to gather intelligence . . . these things are not your responsibility . . . but then this information I am giving you is credible. I am sure you’ve already heard it on the ground.

“The thing is, I cannot guarantee your safety at all if that’s the case . . . These guys are under extreme pressure with things hanging over their heads . . . everything that happens to them, somebody goes back and gives the information outside of the organization. I know it’s not Special Branch or any of my Intel units. These guys are accusing you of doing things along with counterparts. These are dangerous waters you tread.

“These days everything is a story: the allegation to overthrow the prime minister is a story. The minister of home affairs calling me in the morning and saying there is a threat on his life . . . and there are other stories. These things are causing disaffection within the organization and don’t augur good for it when we are going through a period of uncertainty. I’m not accusing you; I’m just telling you who’s accusing you. You need to know how dangerous it is . . . but I don’t understand how all of a sudden this kind of information is coming from the force to the minister. I need to know the persons doing this, whether they are spies within the force. There is a lot of additional information I have . . . and persons are accusing you!”
Reprinted from October 17, 2015

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