Police officers providing security at Jamaica’s criminal courts are demanding reinforcements following a recent incident where an officer was attacked and injured while processing prisoners.
Almost Killed over a Ganja Spliff
Last Wednesday (14th), a police officer at a criminal courthouse in downtown Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, was attacked by six prisoners when the officer attempted to confiscate a marijuana cigarette one of them was smoking.
The officer ordered the prisoner to hand over the spliff, and just as the prisoner was about to do so, another prisoner at the scene grabbed the spliff, according to local reports. Then six prisoners, who had all been present at the court to defend murder charges, had surrounded the officer and attempted to wrestle away the officer’s baton.
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The prisoners had also tried to verbally intimidate the officer by saying they were already charged with murder and that they were not afraid of the police, according to local news reports.
The scuffling officer had managed to overpower the prisoners by hitting one of them in the face with the baton, which caused the prisoner to bleed profusely. After seeing the injured prisoner, the other five had backed away from the officer.
The officer sustained bruises that required medical care, local sources reported. The injured prisoner was also taken to the hospital.
While the incident was going on, another police guard at the scene had stood at the cell door “helplessly,” according to local media reports. This second officer had been afraid to open the cell door and assist his colleague because he thought the prisoners would escape.
He later remarked that he didn’t even have a can of pepper spray with him to use.
One Incident Highlights Many Concerns for Jamaican Court Officers
The incident has shed light upon the plight of Jamaican court officers who are often overwhelmed due to lack of personnel and inadequate means to defend themselves against prisoners who become violent in custody.
Officers had on several occasions complained of a lack of pepper spray. The few cans available are given to officers who patrol the streets. Such prioritizing is startling when court officers have raised serious concerns regarding prisoners who keep sharp objects on their person. Soon before the incident took place, a prisoner was apprehended with a razor blade, a policewoman who works at the courthouse told local media.
Shocking Breach of Security Not Due to Lack of Awareness
Unruly prisoners are not an uncommon sight in Jamaican prisons, where many in lockup can be seen smoking marijuana cigarettes.
Police officers have highlighted the dismal state of security at the place where the incident took place—the Supreme Court complex of Jamaica—for the past five years.
The criminal jail section at the complex houses more than 30 prisoners on a daily basis, but has only three officers guarding the cell. Although it’s a known fact that five police officers are required in a courtroom, only two are currently available for each.
Courthouse police officers have long complained of lack of personnel, but their complaints have so far fallen on deaf ears.
The family of Zachary Hammond, the 19-year-old who was shot and killed by police in South Carolina earlier this year, has filed a lawsuit against the officers responsible.
“‘I’ll blow your [expletive] head off,’ were the last words heard by Zachary Hammond,” states the lawsuit, which Hammond’s family says will compel the authorities to release evidence critical to the investigation.
Killed by the Police on a Date
The fatal shooting occurred on July 26, when Hammond was on a date with girlfriend Tori Morton. They first got ice cream at a McDonald’s, and then drove to a Hardee’s fast food restaurant to buy hamburgers, where Seneca police officers spotted them.
Seneca police later said that officers were waiting at Hardee’s for Hammond and Morton because Morton had arranged a drug deal with an undercover officer. The police claimed that when officers pulled up to Hammond’s car to apprehend the suspects, Hammond accelerated to drive off. Lieutenant Mark Tiller then shot Hammond twice.
Seneca police said that a small amount of white powder believed to be illicit drugs was found on Hammond’s dead body. A small amount of marijuana was found on Morton, Hammond’s girlfriend, who has been charged with misdemeanor drug possession.
Cop High-fived over Teen’s Dead Body
Many details regarding the case remain obscure because of the unwillingness of the authorities to release dashboard camera footage and other documents crucial to the investigation. The prosecutor in charge of the case, solicitor Chrissy Adams, has rejected requests from third parties to examine the evidence. She has repeatedly said evidence cannot be released because the case is still open.
Instead of waiting for the authorities, Hammond’s family had ordered a private autopsy and examined private surveillance camera footage, which appear to contradict initial claims by the police. The family has detailed their findings in the recently-filed lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims, once paramedics declared Hammond dead, his body was unattended for 90 minutes as ants stung and bit the corpse. After investigators arrived, a police officer at the scene high-fived over the teen’s corpse, the lawsuit claims.
Lieutenant Tiller has defended his actions by claiming in a statement that he fired only to protect himself as Hammond was threatening to run him over. Hammond’s family has rejected Tiller’s self-defense claims by referring to the private autopsy that shows Hammond was shot in the back and the side, which fails to indicate an immediate threat to the officer’s life.
The private autopsy the family’s lawsuit is mainly based on additionally found evidence that there was a pause between the first and the second shot Lieutenant Tiller fired at Hammond. The private autopsy determined that the second shot killed Hammond.
Lieutenant Tiller has yet to face charges.
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Solicitor Adams has said that she cannot charge Lieutenant Tiller until state and federal agents complete their investigation.
Hammond’s family has filed another lawsuit demanding the removal of Solicitor Adams from the case because she has a close working relationship with the Seneca police department and its officers. The investigation remains at a standstill until the state Supreme Court decides on this case.