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Sandokhan: Jungle justice for a ruthless killer

Sunday, August 26, 2012    

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THE policemen had gone to sleep with their boots on, as if they somehow knew that they had to be ready for action. Still, hardly anything could have prepared them for the deadly early morning attack on their station by the notorious gang leader Sandokhan and his cronies.

When the gunsmoke had cleared, three policemen lay dead; the Olympic Gardens Police Station was on fire, and the weapons storeroom had been looted.

I am referring now to the case of Wayne Smith o/c ‘Sandokhan’, the man whose gang ruled Waterhouse and its environs in the mid-80s. Sandokhan had reportedly felt that the police had “dissed” his girlfriend when they raided her home in Eastwood Park Gardens, St Andrew, in search of him earlier. The attack on the station was in retaliation.

And before I go into the details of the Molotov cocktails that were used to fire-bomb the police station, let me put on record that I accompanied my husband, the then Senior Superintendent Isadore ‘Dick’ Hibbert (now retired ACP), to the bloody scene that fateful morning.

I saw with my own eyes the three bodies of the murdered policemen just where they had fallen in the sudden attack.

The investigation into the above matter was followed rather closely by me — and you will find out why later on. I discovered by means of my own investigation much later that a serving policeman, living in the Olympic Gardens area, had actually seen Sandokhan and his gang making the Molotov cocktails and he failed to report the matter to his superiors. He was subsequently dismissed from the police force.

Large crowds came from near and far to the death scene in the aftermath of the bloodbath. It was difficult for the police to control them. On the scene too was A J Nicholson (the current foreign affairs and foreign trade minister) who was then aspiring to run in that constituency. He expressed “shock” at what he had seen, as did many other persons. It was a gruesome sight.

I personally did not see him, but one of the senior police officers at the scene that morning told my husband and I that the then Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Michael Manley had been earlier on the scene and had expressed his “deep shock and consternation” at the horrific sight.

The Olympic Gardens tragedy mirrored but one of the serious assaults on authorities in that year. I had recently returned to Jamaica after a two-year stint abroad. Earlier in that same year, my husband (who was then in charge of crime for the parishes of Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine) and I, along with our two grandchildren of tender years, were subjected to what was described in the newspapers at the time as an “attempted assassination”.

Seven hoodlums, all armed, had waited in ambush and held us up at gunpoint as we arrived home at one o’clock in the morning from a birthday party for our godson. But for the mercy of God we would not have been here to, as they say, tell the tale. But that is another story.

Only to say that until the gangs are stripped of their stranglehold over the people residing in the communities referred to variously as “inner city”; “the ghetto”; “political enclaves”; “low-cost housing” and the like, Jamaica will always be making two steps forward and one step backward.

From the journal of Senior Superintendent Isadore ‘Dick’ Hibbert November 19, 1986

“The victims (slain policemen) are: Sgt Ezra Cummings; Constable Raymond Thomas and District Constable Archibald Robinson.

The Olympic Gardens Police Station is situated in the parish of St Andrew, South Division — a somewhat hostile environment — the building is solidly constructed and comprised two floors. The upper floor is the sleeping quarters for personnel at the station. The ground floor houses the guardroom, strongroom and lock-up. The rear and sides of the premises are secured by 8’ to 10’ concrete walls.

Let me now give you the sequence of events leading to the fatal attack on the station and its police personnel: Wayne Smith o/c ‘Sandokhan’ was the leader of a gang operating in Olympic Gardens, Waterhouse, Callaloo Bed, and Riverton City. He was wanted by the Olympic Gardens police on several counts of shooting and wounding with intent as well as other offences. Despite the best efforts of the Olympic Gardens police, Sandokhan managed to avoid capture.

On November 18, 1986 at about 11:00 am, a police party, including D/C Archibald Robinson, carried out a raid on a house in Eastwood Park Gardens, occupied by Sandokhan’s girlfriend. Sandokhan was supposed to be in hiding there. He was not there when the police arrived. It was said the police applied pressure on the girlfriend to elicit information which would lead to Sandokhan’s arrest.

Sandokhan later turned up at his girlfriend’s house and was told about the action of the police. He was very angry and swore to take revenge on the Olympic Gardens police.

He returned to Waterhouse, and with certain members of his gang, namely Nicholas Henry and Kenneth Whorms, planned the attack on the station. Firstly, they drew a plan of the station; then they built a number of Molotov cocktail bombs, and lastly, they gathered their weapons in preparation for the attack.

About 1:00 am on November 19, 1986, the marauders arrived at the station to carry out their evil intent. By then, others had joined forces with Sandokhan, Henry and Whorms.

At that particular time, D/C Robinson was the station guard. The guardroom was locked and Robinson was having a nap at the desk. Sgt Ezra Cummings, Cons Thomas and another constable were asleep in the barracks.

Sandokhan and company used a ladder to climb over the wall at the rear of the premises; removed several glass louvre blades from a window, through which they entered the station, all armed with M-16s and Molotov cocktails. Two rushed to the barracks and shot and killed Sgt Cummings and Cons Thomas.

The other killer rushed to the guardroom. The District Constable, in an attempt to escape, was running through the front door when he was cut down by a bullet. He died at the entrance to the station.

The killers then stole a quantity (unspecified) of weapons, including M-16s, from the strongroom and upon leaving, bombed the station with the Molotov cocktails, setting off a fire on the ground floor, destroying valuable and in many cases, irreplaceable documents/records; not to mention, the damage to the building.

A constable, who was upstairs in the barracks with Cummings and Thomas, managed to secrete himself in a safe place and escaped unhurt. He alerted police control. The Fire Brigade put out the blaze.

A team of investigators and forensic personnel was shortly on the scene. It was ugly. Just to see three of our colleagues spreadeagled, washed in blood, was not a pleasant sight. But also, it was a grim reminder of the risks involved and how important it is to always be ‘on the watch’.

It is a serious matter to kill a cop. To kill three in the station was not to be taken lightly. And to make matters worse, there were so many high-powered weapons now in the hands of these terrorists. The situation demanded swift and decisive action.

Every available cop from Mobile Reserve, Flying Squad and within the division of St Andrew South, was deployed. The immigration officers at both international airports were alerted. The news media were brought on board. Every serving policeman was alerted.

A Command Post was set up at Hunt’s Bay Police Station with the late SSP Donald Knight, SSP Hibbert and Asst Supt Donald Brown at the helm. Other front-line officers on the ground included D/Supt Garnet Daly, A/Supt Tony Hewitt, Inspector Donald Pusey, Inspector Kelso Small, Det Sgt Cornwall ‘Bigga’ Ford, and Det Sgt Derrick ‘Cowboy’ Knight.

We conducted interviews, issued instructions, collected statements from witnesses and monitored the progress of the operation.

One of the Molotov cocktails thrown into the station had failed to explode. The fingerprint expert recovered a fingerprint from it. It belonged to Kenneth Whorms. This was a very important clue which led a police party to a house in Waterhouse. During a confrontation, Whorms was shot and killed by the police. A number of weapons, including one M-16, was recovered.

The next breakthrough came later that day when Nicholas Henry was caught, again in Waterhouse. A number of weapons stolen from the Olympic Gardens Police Station, was recovered. Henry was escorted to CIB Headquarters in Kingston. He co-operated fully with the investigators.

Cautioned, he gave a lengthy statement outlining a full account of the attack on the station and the murder of the three policemen.

All our efforts were now directed towards the apprehension of Sandokhan. A raid was carried out where he was supposed to be hiding (his house). He was not there. But the plan of the Olympic Gardens Police Station was found there — a most valuable exhibit it proved to be.

Then, bingo! Sandokhan turned up at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay and was attempting to leave the island by means of false travel documents when an alert immigration officer detained him and contacted my office at CIB Headquarters.

Sandokhan was subsequently escorted to my office. I confronted him about the murders. He denied having any knowledge of them, at first.

Said I to him: “You could not be the bad, bad Sandokhan I heard about who boast about anything you do and now that you are in police custody you behaving like a mouse?”

This seemed to have aroused his ego and he immediately began talking. I recorded a statement from him under caution.

In that statement, he said: “The police ‘dis’ (disrespected) my girlfriend and so I decided to retaliate.”

Sandokhan and Nicholas Henry were charged with murder, arson and robbery. Following a preliminary enquiry in the Gun Court, the two were committed to stand trial at the next sitting of the Home Circuit Court.

However, on September 17, 1987 Sandokhan escaped from the lock-up at the Home Circuit Court where he was taken to be pleaded for trial on charges of murdering the three policemen.

The following day, as a result of reports floating in and around Olympic Gardens and concentrated efforts by the police to recapture the fugitive, Sandokhan turned himself in, accompanied by his attorney.

According to Sandokhan, when questioned, a man (unknown) had visited his cell and told him he was free to go home. He left and took a bus home. Then, while there, a relative convinced him it was ‘a set-up by the police to kill him’. That was why he turned himself in.

But police reports were to the contrary. A plan by Sandokhan was spiked by the Olympic Gardens police who got wind of a secret wedding to enable Sandokhan to leave for England. The supposed bride — a lass from Britain — was promptly whisked away and taken to the British High Commission by the Olympic Gardens police before any such plan could have been executed.

So the trial did take place. Sandokhan and Henry each gave unsworn statements from the prisoner’s dock. The incamera trial lasted eight days in the Home Circuit Court. They denied that they took part in the attack on the police station or that they had anything at all to do with it. Sandokhan claimed he was beaten by the police and forced to sign a statement. He denied that he was held at the Sangster International Airport.

On March 17, 1988, after retiring for half-an-hour, the jury returned guilty verdicts on each of the three counts of murder against each accused. The sentences of death were then pronounced.

Wayne Smith o/c ‘Sandokhan’, 26-year-old labourer, was defended by Linton Gordon, while Nicholas Henry, labourer of Olympic Gardens, was defended by Derrick Darby.

Other trials were to come.

June 9 - Sandokhan and Francis Beckford, o/c ‘Prentice’, labourer, of 54 Penwood Crescent, Olympic Gardens, were convicted in the Home Circuit Court of murdering Eddie Curniffe, 20, of Olympic Gardens. This murder took place on October 15, 1986 following gang warfare in the area.

Sandokhan’s defence at trial was an alibi. He said that on October 15, he remained at home for the entire day and night and on the day of the alleged killing he cooked chicken and rice for his wife. In the night he boiled mint tea for her because his wife was pregnant and was not feeling well. He said he did not leave home from October 15, 1986 until November 17, 1986 after his wife had a baby.

Sandokhan, who described himself as a woodcarver, told of carving a coat-of-arms with his wife and himself in the centre, while at home. And he presented the carving with the Jamaican Coat of Arms in court.

Sandokhan’s wife testified on his behalf.

Beckford’s defence was also an alibi. He claimed he was at Grant’s Pen Road when the killing occurred.

Sentence of death was pronounced on each accused in this case.

June 15 - Sandokhan escapes from Death Row at the St Catherine District Prison. Four prison warders suspended as a result. Probe ensued.

July 12 - Sandokhan shot and wounded by the police on the Spanish Town Road, near to Riverton City. He escapes and obviously survives.

July 27 - Sandokhan, armed with an M-16 rifle, meets Moses Bent, 25, o/c ‘Bredda’ on a track in Riverton City. Rifle in hand, he called out to Bent by name. A woman who was walking with Bent ran when she saw the gun. Sandokhan then turned the weapon on Bent and shot him. He died on the spot. Bent had been returning from his pig farm in Riverton City.

July 31 - Sandokhan and his gang took Robert Wynter, 16, of Trelawny Avenue, Riverton City, from his house and accused him of having given information to the police. Later they tied him to an old car and stoned him to death. I can say categorically that the boy had not given any information to the police. The probability is that the boy may have seen Sandokhan and the rest kill Bent.

All efforts were again concentrated towards Sandokhan’s recapture. He moved from community to community with the police hot on his trail. Sandokhan, from intelligence, was regrouping with fellow cronies and, at the same time, committing various crimes.

According to intelligence, Sandokhan was now operating from Riverton City, which was also the base of the feared Natty Morgan gang. This move by Sandokhan brought on continuous police operations in Riverton to the displeasure of Natty Morgan.

Eventually, on September 8, 1988, Sandokhan’s body was found in bushes in the community of Tower Hill. It had multiple gunshot wounds, believed to have been inflicted by members of Natty Morgan’s gang.

Sandokhan escaped the justice pronounced earlier in the Home Circuit Court but jungle justice prevailed.

Nicholas Henry is still behind bars.”

Next week: The feared Natty Morgan

Sybil E Hibbert is a veteran journalist and retired court reporting specialist. She is also the wife of Retired ACP Isadore ‘Dick’ Hibbert, rated as one of the top Jamaican detectives of his time.

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