Is witness protection available? -Gomes, McKenzie cases pose question
December 25, 2006
Acting Commissioner of Police, Henry Greene believes that the police force could offer protection to witnesses in serious crimes but has declined to comment on whether any form of protection is being granted to crime victims/witnesses/accused under legislation which was enacted earlier this year.
Back in April the National Assembly passed the justice protection bill, which was amended at the time when it was being debated to include trafficking in person offences.
The other offences which could trigger protection under the programme include murder, manslaughter, treason, sedition, piracy or hijacking, possession or use of firearms and ammunition with intent to injure, possession or use of firearms in the furtherance of any criminal offence, aggravated assault, shooting or wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm, robbery, robbery with aggravation, armed robbery, arson, drug trafficking offences, money laundering offences and any domestic violence offence.
Persons who unlawfully disclose information about the programme are liable on summary conviction to a fine of $1M and to imprisonment for 10 years.
Moreover, the bill envisaged the establishment of an administrative centre, an investigative agency and a protective agency.
Lakeram Mc Kenzie
In administering the programme, the centre can arrange for the provision of safe-houses on the written recommendations of one of the two agencies and make payments in connection with the protection and assistance provided under the act.
Under Clause 5, the centre would be empowered to provide any documents necessary to establish a new identity for the participant and to permit the participant to use an assumed name in carrying out the duties related to the programme. Payments could also be made to the participant for the purpose of meeting reasonable living expenses including where appropriate the expenses of his/her family. Help can also be provided to the participant to meet the cost of relocation and to obtain employment and access to education and health care. The bill does not say if relocation entails moving to another part of the country or overseas. However, in light of the regional witness protection programme it appears that there could be reciprocal agreements for the movement of participants between countries in the region.
Asked whether the force was using the legislation as part of their investigations of the more serious gun and narcotics crimes, Greene told Stabroek News that whenever appropriate protection would be given to persons desirous of this. The commissioner did not elaborate and declined to comment on whether the programme was at work.
Observers believe that the recent case involving Rhonda Gomes, at whose home the police found a quantity of ammunition, cocaine and guns was an appropriate one for the police to offer protection in an effort to find out whose drugs and guns were found at her house. There is also the case of Ryan Bacchus who has been charged with the murder of East Coast businessman, Lakeram Mc Kenzie. Since the killing appeared to have been carried out by a highly-organised gang it was felt that Bacchus would be ripe for witness protection.
The 20-year-old of Bachelor's Adventure, ECD was shot on the said night of the robbery/murder and was left on the Enterprise seawall until police found him. Police had asked the court for time before proceeding with the trial as they were still searching for four other men.
Police on November 10 went on a raid at Gomes' house at North Ruimveldt where they found 10 kg, 999 grammes of cocaine; three fragmentation grenades and one concussion grenade, two firearms: one AK-47 automatic rifle and an automatic rifle number 008187, 19 7.62 magazines and one pistol magazine. Ranks also retrieved 1,192 rounds 7.62 x 39 ammunition, 245 rounds 9mm ammunition, 77 rounds .38 special ammunition, 14 rounds of .30 ammunition, 35 rounds .32 ammunition, one round .22 ammunition and 47 12-gauge cartridges. Police have since indicated that the weapons were never used at any crime scene.
Greene had told Stabroek News that although Gomes has already been sentenced detectives were still conducting investigations.
Gomes, through her attorney, Nigel Hughes had said that the arms and ammunition belonged to a man she had lived with. The attorney said she was unaware of his activities. The woman reported that she gave the man copies of her keys and allowed him freedom to use her premises and would go out and return to find him there. The lawyer said the relationship lasted for two and a half years and has now ended. The weapons were found underneath Gomes' bed surrounded by Christmas decorations and a pram.
According to the lawyer Gomes and her mother were threatened by the man not to release his name or his activities to the police. The lawyer had also told the court that after Gomes' arrest the police interrogated her and offered to fly her out to Trinidad, ostensibly for protection. She enquired about what would happen to her after and they said they didn't know and she declined their offer. When Greene was asked specifically about the offer to fly Gomes out to Trinidad, he said he was not sure whether it was witness protection or an aspect of the investigation. The commissioner said at the time he did not have all the details in relation to the offer to fly Gomes to Port of Spain.
Witness protection had been urged by many sections of society in the wake of unrestrained crime, expanded drug trafficking and the low number of successful prosecutions in the courts in serious offences cases. In the majority of the drug cases, the couriers and low-level intermediaries take the blame.
Witness protection had also been urged during the inquiry into the death squad allegations against Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj. A number of persons who had said that they had information about the operations of the death squad declined to go before the commission to give evidence.