Cop injured in Spanish Town gunfight dies moments before scheduled hospital discharge

Staff reporter

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

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Superintendent Leon Clunis's wife and children had planned to welcome him home yesterday. But news of his sudden passing moments before he was to be discharged from Kingston Public Hospital turned the family's joy into grief.

The senior cop's unexpected death also shocked the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the country in general. It showed on the faces of the cops gathered outside the hospital as they supported and consoled each other.

Clunis was recovering from injuries sustained during an early morning gun battle with criminals in the Horizon Park community in Spanish Town, St Catherine, on June 12. Two other policemen Detective Corporal Dane Biggs and Constable Decardo Hylton were shot dead and another injured in that exchange.

Just over 11 hours later, the main suspect — deportee Damion Hamilton — was cut down by police at a house in Cooreville Gardens, St Andrew. Two policemen were injured in that firefight.

Yesterday, Superintendent Steve Brown, a close colleague of Clunis, said he had been in touch with Clunis throughout the day and was on his way to see him when he received the devastating news of his passing.

“I just was not expecting this because we had a long conversation this morning and he asked me to do some stuff for him because he should have been discharged today. He called me twice today and I was taking something to him and decided that I would take it to him when he got home. It just never happened,” Brown told the Jamaica Observer outside the hospital.

Brown admitted that just after the Horizon Park incident he and his colleagues had feared the worst, but were in high spirits after Clunis had shown signs of making a full recovery.

“After visiting him and having discussions with him on a regular basis we realised that he was recovering. We knew him as a fighter, and so we had high expectations that he would pull through,” Brown said, adding that Clunis was his batchmate at the police training school.

“We worked together for 29 years. We went to training school on the same day. He was like my class captain; a born leader from the day he went into training school. He was always one of those persons to lead from the front.

“This is really disheartening. He was one of the vibrant persons in training school and we have known him to be very vibrant throughout his career. So his death has left a void that cannot be filled,” Brown said.

Jamaica Police Federation Chairman Detective Sergeant Patrae Rowe was with Clunis over the weekend and indicated that he had expected to have seen his colleague fully recovered and back at home yesterday.

“We had a conversation that suggested to us that he would have made a full recovery. In fact, he shared with us that he would have been discharged today. The force was in preparation mode to transport him home and to provide the necessary support to him at home today. And to receive that news that he has passed, it is tragic,” said the detective sergeant.

Stephanie Lindsay, senior superintendent of police and head of the JCF's Corporate Communication Unit, was in tears as she talked with the media about her colleague's unexpected passing.

“We got the call around 3:00 pm that he died. We were all shocked, we were all saddened, because just minutes before that call he was in such high spirits,” said Lindsay.

She said Clunis was preparing to be discharged from the hospital when he developed complications.

“I can't speak in detail about the medical procedure that was done. We were addressed earlier by the chief medical officer for the hospital, Dr Wiley, and she gave a medical perspective. But we don't know what happened, because from all indication he should have been home by now,” said Lindsay.

“He was just awaiting his medication to leave when suddenly he developed some complication and the medical team was not able to revive him,” she added.

“This is not the news we expected. His family and his wife were here. They came to collect him. This one has hit us very hard, because we were not expecting this, based on how he was doing medically,” she said.

Describing the atmosphere on the ward where Clunis had been recovering, Lindsay said even medical staff were shocked and in tears.

“When we went on the ward... the entire staff was crying. It just came as a shock for everybody,” she said, adding that the matter is being treated as a sudden death and that investigations are ongoing.

In the meantime, Lindsay said the JCF will continue to support Clunis's wife and children, who are now having to cope with the tragic turn of events.

“We just have to continue to support his family. It is very difficult for his wife and children. We are going to celebrate him and support his family in the best way that we can,” said Lindsay.

Senior Superintendent of Police Carl Ferguson, who was Clunis's operations manager, told the Observer that he was out of town when he learnt of his colleague's passing.

“He was a very hard worker. Clunis was very committed, his dedication to duty could not be questioned,” said Ferguson.

“You don't get them like that often. Mr Clunis is definitely a worker. People like him are hard to come by; he's [always] gonna give it his all,” he said.

“You have to just hope for the best in terms of his soul resting in peace... The entire JCF is in mourning now. He will be remembered for his dedication and commitment to duty. He was a no-nonsense type of person,” added Ferguson.

Referring to the last appraisal he did for the fallen lawman, Ferguson said, “Some of the words I used were 'very passionate about his job'; he took his job very serious, he was very reliable.”

He stated that Clunis's passing on the day he was expected to be discharged from hospital blindsided everyone. “There was great expectation he would have been discharged today, and so it is even more shocking learning of his passing,” he said.

– Additional reporting by Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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