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Ministers want persons kept out of jail for small amount of ganja

BY HORACE HINES Observer staff reporter hinesh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 08, 2014    

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ROSEMOUNT, St James — The National Security and Justice ministers have asked the Attorney General to explore the possibility of having persons kept out of jail for possessing small portions of ganja, prior to the passing of relevant legislation

This comes after the Independence Day's controversial death of 31-year-old construction worker Mario Deanes who was brutally beaten while in custody at the Barnett Street Police Station after being held with a ganja spliff in his Rosemount community, Sunday morning.

Minister of National Security Peter Bunting suggested, in a media release yesterday, that until the passage of legislation persons caught with small portions of ganja could be issued with a summons, instead of being jailed.

"Justice Minister Mark Golding and I have requested the Attorney General to research the law to see whether, pending an amendment to the law, we can make it the policy of the police to proceed by way of summons in these cases (possession of small quantities of ganja) rather than by way of arrest and detention," Bunting said in a statement in relation to Deanes' death.

"This would be consistent with the stated policy direction of the government and help to address the issue of overcrowding in our lock-ups, while reducing the administrative burden to deal with these cases."

Bunting said that while the matter is being investigated by the Independent Commission of Investigations and the police, he is requesting that the Acting Commissioner of Police immediately examine the arrangements for supervising detainees, to ensure the safety of those in the custody of the state.

Opposition Jamaica Labour Party's Deputy Spokesperson on Justice Harold Malcolm in condemning Deanes' death, also highlighted the delinquency of the government in stopping the arrest of persons for the possession of small quantities of gang.

"The promised amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act must be fast-tracked. To avoid this kind of injustice, the Government should also issue interim instructions to the police not to prosecute individuals found with a small quantity of the drugs," said Malcolm, a Human Rights Attorney-at-Law.

According to the police, Deanes who was charged for possession of a small quantity of marijuana, was attacked by fellow inmates on Sunday, August 3, and succumbed to his injuries at the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) on Independence Day.

Yesterday, irate residents of Rosemount staged a massive demonstration, calling for answers to the untimely death of their community member.

The residents who used boulders and debris, some of which were lit, to block the road accused the Barnett Street police of beating Deane, resulting in his death.

But the Police High Command strongly refuted this claim.

A statement issued yesterday by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) Corporate Communications Unit (CCU) said Deane was arrested for possession of ganja, on Sunday, about 7: 15 am and was offered bail later that morning.

The statement claimed that Deanes refused to cooperate with the police and failed to provide the necessary bail requirements. In addition, a surety who was contacted also refused to cooperate with the police. Deane was subsequently taken back into custody, the CCU said.

The CCU said that about 11:30 am, prisoners alerted the police of a row in the lock-up involving Deane. He was found suffering from multiple injuries to his head and upper body.

But resident Castel McKenzie told the Jamaica Observer that he went to the Barnett Street Police Station on Sunday, armed with the requisite documents to bail Deane, who was his friend.

McKenzie alleged that when he was about to be bailed, Deane made an uncomplimentary remark about the police which irked the cop who was about to process his bail.

This allegedly sparked the wrath of the law enforcer who then decided to delay processing of the bail and reportedly told McKenzie to return later in the evening.

In the meantime, Deanes' grieving mother Mercia Frazer, told the Jamaica Observer she was called by her son sometime after 10:00 am to say he was arrested at the police station.

She calculated that her son received the severe beating less than two hours after, as she was told by doctors at CRH that he was taken there sometime after 11:00am that same day.

She also pointed to inconsistencies in the report she initially received from the doctors, who claimed to have been told by the police that her son was injured after falling from a bunk at the station, and the police's account that her son was beaten by fellow inmates.

The Citizens Action for Principle and Integrity (CAPI) co-convener Dennis Meadows said the civil society lobby group has secured attorney-at-law Lambert Brown to take legal action against the State on behalf of Deane's family.

"I got in touch with his (Deanes) mother and we have decided as an organisation that we are going to lead this fight because what happened to young Mario Deanes must not be repeated," Meadows told members of the media yesterday.

"In fact it happens too often and this culture of impunity in the police force with those who are sworn to protect and serve, abuse the rights of Jamaicans with gross impunity."

He also called on the Police High Command to provide protection for McKenzie (who went to bail Deanes) as a potential witness in the matter.

Deanes' distraught mother who claimed that her son's early ambition was to become a lawman but was turned off because of the actions of some members of the JCF, said she, too, has lost faith in the police.

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