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Mortally wounded hero cop took out wanted man in gunfight

Sunday, February 03, 2013    

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HOW does a wife cope with the news that the dear husband whom she had kissed goodbye less than an hour before was now lying on a cold slab at the Kingston Public Hospital Morgue, the victim of a notorious criminal?

This was the script of the tragic tale of the late Detective Sergeant Vincent Silvera, who, at the time of his death, was attached to the Police Special Squad known as 'Echo Base' and resided at 28 Morant Avenue, Washington Gardens in St Andrew.

Silvera's attacker, a man whom the police identified as Maniel Black, o/c "Mar 21" of no stated address, was in turn shot and killed by the mortally wounded policeman.

Before he succumbed to his injuries, Silvera found the strength and determination to ask to be driven to the nearby Central Police Station where he handed over his service revolver and the weapon he had retrieved from beside the body of the fallen Black, who had been killed in their exchange of bullets.

He was rushed shortly thereafter to the Kingston Public Hospital by the same taxi-driver in whose cab he and the wanted man were travelling in at the time of the shootout, and who had witnessed the entire episode. Silvera died later that same day.

The firefight between Silvera and Black occurred on June 6, 1973 at the intersection of Wildman and East Queen Streets. Black was described by the police as a "dangerous criminal who was wanted in connection with the commission of several serious offences" and had so far managed to elude them.

At the time of the incident I was living at Weymouth Drive in Washington Gardens. It was my day off and I was inside my house when I heard a loud commotion outside. A woman's voice shattered the silence. There was no mistaking the shriek of grief and pain. It was a cry straight from the heart.

I opened my front door and saw Mrs Silvera, whom I knew, coming down Weymouth Drive holding her belly, her cries becoming wails of grief. Up to then, I was unaware of what had taken place and that she had been newly widowed.

My next door neighbour, who was a sergeant of police, came out of his house just about the time she had reached my gate. She asked for my husband, who was not at home. He, like her now dead husband, was attached to Echo Base.

Everything became quite chaotic at that stage and someone drove Mrs Silvera downtown as her son had gone to work. But it was a terribly sad scene to behold.

Following Silvera's death, a coroner's Inquest was held at the Kingston Coroner's Court at Sutton Street, presided over by the late Resident Magistrate R S Sinclair, acting as Coroner. Evidence was led by attorney Patrick Brooks.

The Coroner and a mixed jury heard evidence from Alphonso Chen, a taxi-operator of 4 Oxford Road, St Andrew, that on June 6, 1973 around midday, he had been driving along East Queen Street when, upon reaching Wildman Street, a man stopped him and asked him to take him to the Coronation Market. Black was the man who stopped him.

A second person, whom he later learnt was Silvera, also stopped him. Black sat in the front seat of the taxi and Silvera in the back seat.

As Silvera entered the car, Black turned around and looked at him, then attempted to open the door of the taxi as if to get out. Silvera grabbed Black and held him around the neck.

According to Chen, Black moved his right hand towards the left side of his trouser waist and as he did so, there was an explosion.

Once the shooting started, the cabbie said, he opened the door, got out of the vehicle and stooped beside the front of the taxi. Chen said he heard a "whole lot of shots", about 10 in all, he later testified.

When the explosions ceased, the witness further testified, Silvera came out of the car towards where Chen was stooping. The cabbie went to the other side of the car where he saw Black lying on the ground apparently dead. Silvera picked up a revolver which was lying beside Black.

When the Sergeant raised his own shirt, Chen said, he saw blood coming from his left side. He drove Silvera to the Central Police Sstation, where the Sergeant handed over his service revolver and Black's revolver. Silvera was then rushed to the Kingston Public Hospital by the taxi driver.

Anthony Silvera, machinist of 28 Morant Avenue, Washington Gardens, identified the body of his father at the Kingston Public Hospital Morgue.

Dr Eric DePass performed the post-mortem on Silvera's body. The cop had died of shock and cardiac tamponade secondary to a gunshot wound to the left chest.

The report, which was read in court, stated that there was a bullet entry wound with burns on the skin on the left side of the chest in the seventh left intercostal space. The bullet entered the chest through the seventh rib. The wound was 3 I/2 inches from the mid-line.

There was another one through the back of the left forearm. The bullet passed through the right dome of the diaphragm and entered the pericardial sac where it perforated the tip of the right ventricle of the heart. It was found lodged on the left side of the spine in the abdominal back region.

The post-mortem report on Black, which was performed by Dr John Martin (later custos of St Andrew) stated that there was one entry bullet wound 3/8 inch in diameter on the right side of the face an inch below the eye; one exit bullet wound on the left eyeball; one entry bullet wound 3/8 inch in diameter on the left chest; a wound 1 1/2 inch from the mid-sternum and within level of the breast; one exit bullet wound in the right side of his back eight inches above the waistline; one entry bullet wound 3/8 inch in diameter on the inner side of the left leg eight inches above the knee and one exit bullet wound on the back of the left leg below the entry wound.

One bullet had entered the right side of the man's face and exited through his left eyeball.

A second bullet entered the left chest between the fourth and fifth ribs. It went crosswise to the right of the chest before travelling through the left lung, the ninth and tenth ribs on the right side of the back.

Black's death was due to shock and haemorrhage due to punctured lungs and a ruptured heart caused by a bullet.

The verdict of the mixed jury was that 39-year-old Detective Sergeant Vincent Silvera died at the hands of Maniel Black while acting in the line of duty.

The mixed jury also found that Maniel Black received gunshot injuries as Silvera defended himself in the line of duty.

The Silvera's funeral was, in my memory, one of, if not the largest in the history of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

Police officers and men from every branch of the JCF came out to show solidarity and to offer condolences to the grief-stricken widow and only son of the fallen law enforcer.

Believe it or not, almost every member of Cabinet attended the funeral service.

Many were the promises made with respect to the payment of money for widows and orphans and for pension benefits payable when an officer is killed in the line of duty.

Young Silvera was so touched by the promises made by government ministers following his father's death, that in short order, he enlisted in the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

Months passed. Then it stretched into years. Mrs Silvera would stop by our house from time to time to complain about "the runaround" she was getting in the pursuit of her widow's benefits. She was being referred, she told me the last time we spoke, "from pillar to post" and was fed up.

The end result of all that was that a very disappointed and heartbroken widow left this country and settled in the United States of America.

Her son, also bitterly disappointed, left the police force and joined his mother.

Next week: Trevor Berbick's nephew convicted of killing ex-heavyweight champion of the world

Sybil E Hibbert is a veteran journalist and court reporting specialist. She is also the wife of Retired ACP Isadore 'Dick' Hibbert, rated as one of Jamaica's top detectives of his time. Send coments to allend@jamaicaobserver.com

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