Bermuda Police stymied the work of a parliamentary committee looking into the events of December 2, 2016 in which protesters were pepper sprayed by its officers.
According to the report of the committee tabled in parliament on Friday, the Bermuda Police Service was uncooperative and actively withheld information – with at least one senior officer in breach of a summons to appear before it.
The bipartisan committee did find that police violated its own policies on the use of force when it pepper-sprayed dozens of protesters outside the House of Assembly on December 2, 2016.
And the independent Police Complaints Authority’s report into the day’s events – which found no issues with the use of the incapacitant – should be nullified, the committee reported.
But, the committee says, a number of questions will remain unanswered because of the BPS’s refusal to cooperate.
It found contradictions between the testimony of three cabinet ministers at the time that a meeting occurred with the Gold Commander – a senior officer in charge of public order strategy – on the day before the protests, and the Commissioner of Police’s written testimony that no meeting occurred.
The officer declined to respond to two summonses by the committee to appear before it to clarify the matter.
“The testimony of the three former Cabinet Ministers indicated that a meeting took place; however, this is in direct contrast to a response from the Bermuda Police Service through the new Commissioner of Police (Mr. Corbishley) who, in answering questions directed by the Committee to the Gold Commander, advised by letter dated 14th January 2019 that no such meeting occurred.
“Unfortunately, the Gold Commander has not appeared before the Committee to clarify this matter, even though he has been issued two summonses”. From the standpoint of the Committee, he is in breach of the summons (invoking immunity), and has a case to answer with regards to this breach.”
On the use of pepper spray, the report states:
“Astonishingly, when the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee reviewed the video from the body camera placed on an Officer, it was uncovered that an Order was given to Officers to deploy CAPTOR spray. The revelation ‘flew in the face’ of what was initially reported by the Bermuda Police Service, and of what previously had formed a major part of the findings and subsequent decision from the Police Complaints Authority.”
A joint select committee was struck in December 2017 to look into the 2016 events when protesters against airport redevelopment plans clashed with police after blocking access to the House of Assembly.
But the JSC reports that the Bermuda Police Service was uncooperative and refused to allow it to question officers directly, insisting instead that only the Commissioner would speak for the police.
Former Police Commissioner Michael DeSilva, who was in charge of the BPS at the time, did provide information to the Committee but only after Government House was asked to intervene. And the Committee reports that much of the BPS documents submitted was heavily redacted. The police Commissioner also engaged a lawyer for the proceedings – Alan Dunch – who simultaneously represented Michael Dunkley the former Premier.
Dunkley told us that it would be inappropriate to comment on the report as it had been tabled for debate in parliament.
On December 2, 2016 Police indiscriminately used the incapacitant known as Captor on a number of protesters, sparking calls for an investigation and 26 formal complaints to the Police Complaints Authority. Then Governor John Rankin commissioned a “peer review” conducted by a senior officer from the UK.
While the peer review and the PCA criticized the BPS for poor planning and communication, the reports found no misconduct by any individual officers.
The 140-page JSC report contradicts the two prior probes by finding that police officers were given general orders to use Captor on the protesters. It raises questions of the PCA which had access to police body cam evidence of the orders but made no reference to them in its report.
The JSC points out in its report that under BPS policy individual officers should make their own assessment and decision on the use of Captor. The policy also says that officers are individually legally liable for the use of Captor in their possession, and that it should only be used with violent offenders who pose a risk to others when lower levels of force have failed.
“Any person, knowing that an order to use CAPTOR spray was given on 2nd December 2016, and who has been prepared to sit back and say nothing to the contrary, is a party to absolving the leadership of any responsibility for the actions taken,” the JSC report states.
While the JSC report is yet to be debated in parliament, the political parties have already issued statements to the press.
Premier David Burt homed in on the BPS’s refusal to cooperate fully with the committee in a statement yesterday.
“It is disturbing to learn that the Police who we rely upon to enforce the laws of the land disregarded the law and failed to appear before the Committee. The Report speaks to serious differences in reported accounts of that day which could only be resolved by the Police giving testimony like so many others did.”
Burt also hit out at the then government.
“The shocking sub-text of the Report describes a Government out of touch with the people, deliberately isolated from the advice of senior civil servants and engaged in clandestine discussions which seem to have led to these events. As the Report says: ‘It was the reaction by the decision-makers to the protest which resulted in the disastrous events of the day.’
Opposition Leader Craig Cannonier followed that with a missive of his own, saying the committee should have interviewed the Premier.
“Why didn’t Mr Swan call him? Why indeed didn’t the Premier volunteer to attend? He had a front seat on the day.
“He was willing to take a lead in this demonstration, why didn’t he take the lead and take part in this investigation and volunteer information?”
We’ve reached out to the Commissioner of Police for comment.
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