Four years to freedom
Cop acquitted by Court of Appeal; says he was almost pushed to breaking point in seeking justiceWednesday, September 30, 2020
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
FOUR years on suspension without pay after being held in a 2016 sting operation almost brought Constable Valdano Smith to his “breaking point”, but his faith in the justice system and trust in his lawyer won him his freedom yesterday.
Smith, who was last year convicted under the Dangerous Drugs Act, in the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court, of possession of 22 pounds of cocaine was acquitted by the Court of Appeal, which found that the trial judge then had erred in convicting him.
The constable, who along with ex-corporal of police Anthony Robinson were held in the sting operation conducted by the Major Organised and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, were convicted on April 12, 2019 and both sentenced to pay a fine of $1 million and a two-year suspended sentence, or nine months imprisonment at hard labour.
Smith's attorney, Kemar Robinson, argued, amongst other things, that there was insufficient evidence to convict his client as, whilst the drugs were found in the car in which he was a passenger, he was never in actual possession.
“At the point in time when they found the cocaine in the back of the vehicle he was present, but there was nothing else to suggest that he was in possession of it. The co-accused said that it belonged to Smith, so it was a cut-throat kind of defence; so the judge found both of them guilty. But the Court of Appeal found that there was no evidence that he (Smith) had possession of the cocaine,” Robinson told the Jamaica Observer following the ruling yesterday.
“In law, anybody who is in control of the vehicle they are in possession of everything in the vehicle, but he (Smith) was not the driver, he was the passenger. The only evidence against him was the co-accused saying that he put the bag in the vehicle, but in law the evidence of a co-accused cannot be used to convict another accused,” the lawyer noted.
Yesterday, Robinson said the bag that was in the vehicle was a black “travelling bag” but “there was no evidence that the two men were travelling”.
Asked why Smith was in the car, he said the constable was going to the airport to pick up his licensed firearm from another police officer who works at the airport.
“The evidence is, in fact, that the officer had his firearm in his locker, so he was going to pick it up. Coincidentally both of them were going to the airport, so he (Smith) got a ride with [the co-accused]. I think justice has been served. He filed four grounds of appeal and they were all successful,” Robinson said.
Yesterday, Smith, who is married and a father of two, said the last four years which saw him almost losing his new house have been painful.
“Without the help of family, the help of my wife, and my lawyer, I wouldn't be able to survive. I wouldn't be here today speaking. I went through depression; almost lost my house, at one point we had to stay with relatives. It was really difficult, financially, emotionally, mentally, it was very very hard, I almost reached my breaking point,” the policeman said.
Smith said having just acquired his house he had to fight “tooth and nail” to keep it, and at one point renting it and moving out to live with a relative.
The 32-year-old, asked about the strain on his 12-year-old and four-year-old, expressed deep concern, He indicated that he had only been married for four years when the incident took place.
When he spoke with the Jamaica Observer yesterday he was in undaunted by the experience:
“...My expectation is to continue to serve, reassure and protect the people of Jamaica. I am ready, once I am called, I will be there. Without doubt I always trusted the process,” said the policeman.
When asked what he thought of his co-accused, who opted not to appeal the conviction, he said that he was not sure, adding that the ordeal had “taught me a valuable lesson about mankind. Persons will abuse your trust and your friendship”.