Families of Vieux Fort Five press on for Compensation

Five years ago I sat in the STAR editorial department, wondering how to angle a story that had just reached the news room; overnight five men had been shot in a police-related encounter; four were dead, one receiving hospital attention. I had been assigned to write about the incident that had left dead Jn Baptiste McFarlene, Mitchel Cadette, Allan Lenny Louisy and Myron Dupal. The hospitalized fifth individual was Kevin Ferdinand. He’d been shot in the leg at around 2:30am on Thursday May 5th, 2011 when allegedly police reported intercepting a robbery in progress at the Kitch Restaurant and Bar in Vieux Fort. Six days later, Kevin was dead.

His expiration meant there was no one left to tell the tale of the Vieux Fort Five other than the police officers who reportedly had killed them. I immediately set out to meet with families and friends of the victims. I found them in a state of disbelief, shocked, hurt and angry. In La Clery, residents were visibly shaken. They’d seen this type of thing before. A wave of violence had been sweeping the island at the time, with more and more reports of suspected criminals fatally shot during the police-initiated Operation Restore Confidence.

Between 2010 and 2011 twelve fatalities, including the Vieux Fort Five, were directly linked to the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. The state of affairs in Saint Lucia quickly made international headlines. Finally, in August 2013 came the official word from the prime minister that the United States had cut off assistance to the RSLPF in retaliation for its “gross human rights violations” by local cops. Locally-held inquests declared twelve of the killings justified, one ruled unlawful. Five remained unaccounted for.

Former STAR editor Kayra Williams

Former STAR editor Kayra Williams now resident in Canada.

In March 2015 an article in the UK Telegraph titled St Lucia Police Kept Death Lists, Killed Suspected Criminals to Keep Island Tourist Friendly stated: “In 2012 local inquests concluded that six of the shootings were justified but the U.S. indicated that it did not have confidence in the outcomes of the hearings. Relations of the victims have insisted they were murdered.”

According to the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Victoria Charles-Clarke: “Government passed legislation [on Wednesday 4th December, 2013], namely the Police Complaints Act No.7 of 2013, to allow the minister responsible for the police to appoint special investigators from outside of Saint Lucia” to investigate. The resulting IMPACS report indicated “security problems at the highest levels” and stated “several of the deceased persons were killed after superior orders were given.”

Inquests continued, with the case of the Vieux Fort Five lagging far behind, plagued by endless adjournments and other legal issues. In April 2016, an article by STAR publisher Rick Wayne headlined ‘Crime Victims Cry Out: Bring Back Operation Restore Confidence’ made the rounds locally and internationally. In his piece Wayne detailed the progression of police operations from 2008, through to the change in command structure of the police force from Police Commissioner Ausbert Regis to Assistant Commissioner for Crime Vernon Francois, under whom Operation Restore Confidence became fully operational. The article highlighted in particular one of several IMPACS recommendations to the government: “All officers involved in the unlawful killings of citizens in respect of the files reviewed must be prosecuted.”

There was hope on Friday May 27th, 2016 when the judgment was finally made for the inquest into the deaths of the Vieux Fort Five. The fatal shootings of Jn Baptiste McFarlene, Mitchel Cadette and Allan Lenny Louisy were ruled “unlawful”; an open verdict was delivered with reference to the other two victims.

For Ann Louisy, mother of Allan—who would have turned 27 this year—Friday’s verdict five years after the deadly shootings represented a moment of joy. It would not return her son but it delivered hope.

“The assurance that I have in this battle is that God is in control. With him as my captain,” she said, “I can laugh at any storm that may come my way.” She had attended the court proceedings in May with “no doubt in my mind.”

“I had the assurance . . . I was not afraid,” she said. “When the jury stood up and delivered its verdict it was no surprise; there was already joy in my heart.”

As for her family: “They didn’t have the faith I had. I was the only one who stood up, knowing God would come through. I know the battle is still there but there is no way I can lose because God is in charge.”

At the end of a brief conversation with Louisy, she revealed that she now had a five-year-old granddaughter, born the day before her son’s violent death.

Human rights attorney Mary Francis said Friday’s victory delivered “only a short sense of relief. There is still a big battle ahead to file a civil suit for compensation. There is also the matter of due process for the accused. But perseverance pays.”

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