Chief justice takes 'Pontius Pilate' lead investigator to task over rifleFriday, November 26, 2021
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
An admission by the lead police investigator in the case against the 33 individuals who stand accused of crimes committed by the St Catherine-based Klansman gang that he had not placed any identifying mark on a rifle taken from the bosom of the gang yesterday attracted biting criticism from trial judge Chief Justice Bryan Sykes.
The weapon is one of two which made its way into the hands of investigators at the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigations (C-TOC) Branch of the constabulary with the help of a former gang member-turned-informant identified as Witness Number One.
The witness, who gave several weeks of testimony, had told the court about the rifle which, he said, he had volunteered to take to get fixed but instead turned over to police investigators. According to the witness, to throw the gang off about his activities with the police, he had told accused gang leader Andre “Blackman” Bryan that the rifle was in the roof of the house of an uncle of his in a Kingston community and that he was not comfortable retrieving it, given that a state of emergency was in effect in the area.
Yesterday the investigator, who told the court that he has been employed to C-TOC since 2012, was asked by prosecutors to describe the weapon which he said he unwrapped from a sheet in which it was handed over.
“There was no serial number, it was a long rifle. I was seeing that type of rifle for the first time,” he said.
Asked by Chief Justice Sykes what he had done to the weapon to be able to identify it, given that the prosecution had hoped to have entered it into evidence, the lawman declared that he had not marked the rifle “because of its unusualness”. He, however, said he believed he was able to identify the weapon should it be shown to him in court.
Asked further to say what other identifying marks the weapon carried, the investigator said it had the letters STV inscribed on it and was “rusty”.
Asked by the chief justice what “struck” him about the weapon, he said, “It's unusual, because I was seeing it for the first time, and it wasn't any of these types used among the [police] force.”
The lawman's admission that he had not marked the weapon prompted a frustrated query from the chief justice, which evoked titters from the accused in the dock who had, prior to that, been stock-still as they listened to the investigator's evidence.
“So, you didn't take a closer look at it to see, for example, what kind of rifle it is, what make, if any. So, you don't have any training in these things, man? You didn't even put a tag on the thing? You don't get training in these things?” Sykes asked.
“According to you, you met this man, this man tell you seh him going to give you information about criminality and crime and all of those things. You and the man agreed to meet, the man carry a gun and give you, yuh nuh put some mark to say, well, this is the thing?” the chief justice pressed.
“To be truthful, Mi Lord, I didn't tag it, and I didn't mark it,” the investigator said, adding that he handed over the weapon to another C-TOC detective (who had started giving evidence in the trial and is to be recalled).
He said that the detective had sealed and labelled the firearm before placing it and the sheet into a firearm box which was then sealed.
The investigator's admission that he has not seen the rifle since nor the ballistic receipt for the weapon which he handed over to the C-TOC Registry prompted this further remark from the chief justice: “So you are a Pontius Pilate here, man, you wash your hands of the matter.
“So, even coming here today, since the case has started — I assume you know it has, since you are here — you don't go and look in the firearms box, man?” the chief justice asked.
“No, Mi Lord,” was the reply.
In the meantime, the investigator yesterday further corroborated the evidence of Witness Number One, testifying that he had accompanied him into the gang's territory in March 2019 posing as his uncle and collected a 9-millimetre Ruger pistol from one of the accused, as well as a plastic beverage bottle containing bullets from another accused.
He said the two men with whom he interacted during that exchange were among dozens of others who were picked up during a joint police-military operation in June 2019 in the St Catherine communities of Homestead, Jones Avenue, Top Banks, Rivoli, Market Street, Nugent Street, Buck Town, Shelter Rock, and Lauriston.
Yesterday, the Crown registered a small victory when it was able, after two failed tries, to get one of three cellphones used to record conversations between alleged members of the gang tendered into evidence. The gadget is one of three devices that the Crown is counting on as part of the body of evidence in the case against the alleged gangsters.
Several attempts to have the transcripts of the recordings entered into evidence had been this week blocked on account of objections raised by defence attorneys, who argued successfully that the Crown had failed to properly establish the chain of custody for the transcripts and as such their integrity was doubted.
In an about-face, the prosecution changed its strategy to instead call forward several police witnesses to take the stand in order to have the recordings entered into evidence.
Witness Number One had testified that he turned over to the police three phones, two of which were given to him by the cops, with recordings of conversations between himself and members of the gang, including Bryan. He said he had downloaded a call recording app to automatically tape multiple cellphone conversations which were also saved. He said forwarded the recordings to cops.
Yesterday, only one of the phones was tendered into evidence. Another was marked for identification as the lead detective said he was unable to open the device to retrieve the unique identification number stored inside. He said, prior to the trial, he had accessed that number by dialling a particular series of digits on the phone which would then produce that number. The prosecution will, based on that, have to use another route to get that particular device tendered into evidence.