Felix doesn't see role for police in any death squad inquiry
By Samantha Alleyne
Stabroek News
March 1, 2004

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The Guyana Police Force might have to be ruled out of any inquiry investigating allegations of a death squad given the public's perception of police involvement, says new Commissioner of Police, Winston Felix.

He also stated that he knew nothing about the existence of such a squad.

"If there is a general feeling that there is or there was a death squad and persons are afraid of the police, maybe there is need for... a mechanism to deal with the issue of the death squad and an inquiry outside of the police force."

He told Stabroek News in an interview on Friday that since there is a belief by some members of the public that policemen are involved in the death squad, that in itself has tainted the police and should rule the police out of any such inquiry.

"... So maybe and I am saying, maybe, there might be an inquiry outside of the police."

The commissioner stressed that he does not like to speculate, as he wants to deal with facts and reality. Asked if there wasn't some part of the allegations that needed to be investigated, Felix said: "Well, we hear talk and we hear so much talk but little actions. I would not like to know that part of my conduct is under query and you are asking me to do an investigation under those conditions, because I start off under a cloud, because a part of me, even if it is a small part, is under a cloud of suspicion. Then how can you ask me to go and take on this high profile inquiry when I am starting off with a minus somewhere along the line?"

At the height of the furore over the death squad allegations, President Bharrat Jagdeo had said that the police were the relevant agency to investigate any such allegations and he had said that those with information should go to the police. Felix's predecessor, Floyd McDonald had also urged those with information to go into the police and detail their allegations. Several persons with whom Stabroek News has since spoken say they have information on the activities of the death squad but they are reluctant to go the police because they believed that several members of the police force were involved in the killings.

Asked if members of the police force were the only persons identified as being members of the squad whether he would have sanctioned the force investigating, the commissioner responded: "Of course, we would have taken a course of action already."

The talk of the formation of the so-called phantom squad started at the height of the crime wave when the criminals had the upper hand and policemen were being killed. Dozens of bodies have since been found and the police have had no explanation for the killings.

The issue fuelled public debate when George Bacchus, who says he was an informant for the death squad, came out alleging the existence of the squad and the involvement of high profiled individuals. He also said Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj knew about the squad. Gajraj has since dismissed the allegation

Asked if there wasn't a case for the police to launch an investigation into the allegations using Bacchus' statements to the media, Felix replied: "Well, to answer that question in the first place suggests to me that I should have been immersed in the facts and the history of the matters you are talking about. I am sure that I am not well immersed with the Bacchus matter or the prelude, the prelude, that you give means I should give you an informed answer. Any answer I give will be more than speculative and I don't think it will serve a useful purpose." Felix was also asked why a statement wasn't taken from Bacchus on the death squad allegations when he visited the police station in relation to his brother's death. Felix said that he is not too sure what allegations Bacchus made to the police.

For him to pronounce on such a question is to put him to speculate because he knows what Bacchus said in public but not what he said to the police.

"Maybe sometime I would be able to say what he said but at this point and time I don't know what he said. He might have given a statement in which he said certain things but I don't know that the same thing that he said to that side that made it public is the same thing he said to the police."

Felix added that he could not be sure whether Bacchus went to the police after he would have made the allegations since he was not in the position he is in today and "therefore my information base is not as filled as it should be to adequately answer you."

He was also asked about suspected death squad member, Axel Williams, who was given a gun licence upgrade signed by former Police Commissioner McDonald even after an inquest was ordered into his shooting to death of food vendor Rodwell Ogle. Felix said that he does not know anything about Williams as he had "barely heard his name. I know nothing about Axel Williams."

In relation to Williams' matter, an inquest was ordered into the death of Ogle. And according to the commissioner an inquest is held to determine whether anyone is criminally concerned with the cause of death and a determination is then made.

But what happens to the gun before the inquest is held? In Williams' case he had kept his and had an upgrade.

"Well in very many cases if in the circumstances of the particular case the firearm seems not to be properly used it will be detained, examined and kept to be tendered as an exhibit," Felix said.

Felix again said he did not want to speculate on the issue since he only heard of the matter of Williams and as such is not in a very strong position to speak authoritatively on the matter.

Asked whether it is the normal procedure for a gun upgrade to be effected in Williams' circumstances, the commissioner said he could not say.

"Well I don't know about normal procedure. I have not had that sort of experience, that's all I can say."

As for breaches of confidentiality in the force, Felix told Stabroek News that it has been an issue he has been talking about for a while adding that he believes that policemen ought to deal with matters under investigation very confidentially.

However, he does not believe that the issue is as widespread as some might claim because according to him if very many persons are taken through proper questioning it would be found that they are going on hearsay.

"Don't let's duck it, there are cases where confidentiality of some of our members is in question, but I say this to you, we have had so many cases going to court, so many cases where convictions are gained in serious matters and they were not affected by the issue of confidentiality. I am saying, it is like corruption, where lack of confidentiality or corruption comes to a member of the public it is worthless going to the media and highlighting it without coming to us."

The commissioner further pointed out that the force has an Office of Professional Responsibility that deals with such issues: "Policemen ought to be confidential people, they ought to learn how to deal confidentially with information. It is an offence in our disciplinary code to divulge information which could be kept secret."

According to the commissioner, members of the public sometimes themselves compromise confidential information as they speak about the same things they report to the police to others.

Meanwhile Felix revealed that the force is in the process of upgrading its response to domestic violence. The police have been criticised for the way they handle domestic violence complaints in the past. He said there is need for widespread training across the country.

Pointing out that their business is to arrest and charge for crimes, he admitted that there was a place for social work.

Questioned as to what is stopping the force from being able to prosecute drug lords as opposed to couriers, Felix said that the big forces in the trade are never up front as they are always shielded by the little ones who are unwilling in Guyana to say who they are working for.

"When we first started holding persons at the airport, around 1992, 1993, I interviewed persons who said they will be well taken care of when they come out of jail and they prefer not to say anything."

As for relations with the media, he hopes for more training:

"I will proceed to develop the police public relations department and even levels of police officers who are capable of dealing with the public, but it is not going to happen overnight and the media must understand this. The Guyana Police Force is in a state of growth and we don't have the funding that by the time we recognise a need we can satisfy it, we have to take our time. Money is a scarce resource."

And how does Winston Felix the Police Commissioner guard against political interference in his work?

"By being professional. Just what I said when I took the oath, that is what I am committed to."

When he was sworn in on February 16 the commissioner told the public to hold him accountable, what did he really mean?

"Accountability starts here and ends here (pointing himself), I can't say it is the divisional commander in Berbice or Essequibo, I have to address the issue. Accountability for a police force has various levels, you have to be accountable to the government, accountable to the public, accountable to the ranks, accountable to the courts... Accountability starts at the top, the buck stops here. If people take a bribe in Essequibo while I am asleep it is the matter for the organisation and you have to deal with it from the top.

Not that I can be imprisoned because I say that I am accountable but I have to accept the responsibility of the office."