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Witter says Tivoli enquiry must await ballistics report

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, March 25, 2014    

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PUBLIC Defender Earl Witter wants the Government to delay the start of hearings by the proposed Commission of Enquiry into the 2010 Tivoli Gardens security forces operation, pending completion of ballistics examinations by the police forensic laboratory.

"If the hearings proceed in the absence of the completed ballistics report, what pertains is a sham, a charade, some kind of a whitewash that must be avoided at all costs," Witter told a press conference at his office in downtown Kingston yesterday.

He said that the ballistics investigations were still "incomplete, unfinished, under way", and would remain so until the process started under the watch of forensic scientist, firearms examiner and ballistics expert Matthew Noedel is completed.

Noedel, whose expertise was facilitated by USAID and the UNDP, is carrying out investigations into the deaths of more than 70 people, including a policeman, during the operation.

The public defender said that the Government had agreed to a "firearms protocol", drafted by Noedel in 2010, which would have provided the evidence to prove "who shoot who". However, the process has been delayed primarily by lack of co-operation from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF).

"Only through the ballistic sciences would the commission be able to determine who shoot who, therefore, we should know from the barrel of which firearms were any lethal bullets fired," Witter insisted.

He said that the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) was still seeking to secure the co-operation of the JDF in surrendering its firearms for testing.

However, he felt that the ballistics reports would not be forthcoming unless the ballistics examinations are completed, in accordance with the protocol agreed to by the Government.

Witter also expressed concern that he was not consulted on the drafting of the terms of reference for the enquiry, noting that the terms agreed on did not require the commissioners to confront the issue of political tribalism which, he said, was at the heart of the violence. In addition, he said it should settle the death toll and give details on assistance provided by United States surveillance during the operation.

He suggested that the commission should be expanded to five, to include a social scientist and criminologist, and that the team should not be limited to a five-month period to complete the process.

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