The tragedy of the Dexter Street Gang case collapse

Thursday, October 24, 2019

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The collapse of the court case against the Westmoreland-based Dexter Street (Middle East) Gang on Tuesday is further proof of the lack of public confidence in the police and Jamaica's Witness Protection Programme.

It also represents an embarrassing blow against the anti-gang legislation on which so much hope is being pinned to reduce murders — a huge chunk of which police say is attributable to marauding gangs here.

The case in the Supreme Court went south when the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions withdrew from the proceedings, stating that the key witness needed to prove the case against the alleged gang members could not be found.

Hoping to head off blame for the collapse, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), in a press statement yesterday, rejected claims that its alleged practice of “arresting first and investigating later”, had been responsible.

“We would like to also make it clear that every effort was made by the police to have the (key witness) placed under the Witness Protection Programme. Despite our best efforts, the individual resisted police protection and eventually disappeared altogether,” the JCF said.

The Dexter Street Gang was linked by police to nearly 40 murders in western Jamaica. Cops also linked the gang to a shipment of 19 guns and more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition seized by the police after it was intercepted at Kingston Container Terminal on November 17 last year.

To be clear, the 19 alleged gang members — 15 males and four females — have not been proven guilty of the criminal charges for which they were being tried and we make no such suggestion.

The point we wish to make in this space is that a case of this magnitude should not collapse because a witness could not be found. Without more, we suggest that the witness had no confidence in the ability of the police or the Witness Protection Programme to keep him or her safe.

It is easier for us to accept that the trial had run its course and the suspects exonerated than to be told that the witness disappeared. Indeed, we are told that the witness “…despite our best efforts…resisted police protection”, before disappearing.

That speaks volumes about how the police and the Witness Protection Programme are being regarded. Therefore, the JCF's statement that, “We are undaunted in the fight against gang violence and organised crime in our country and confident that justice will be delivered in the 12 major gang-related cases currently before the courts,” rings very hollow at this time.

Of course, it is always conceivable that witnesses can be paid off for keeping silent. One hopes that the person in question is alive and well, with the possibility of coming forward to testify in the future, based on confidence in the system.

In the meantime, we cannot stress too much the need for the police to do everything they can to produce only the most thoroughly investigated cases, based on solid supporting evidence that have the greatest likelihood of success.

It might also be necessary to revisit the anti-gang legislation to address the issue of how best to provide custody for key witnesses who do not wish to be placed under the Witness Protection Programme.


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