A Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Monday, February 25, 2013, Kingston, Jamaica – It is been an incredible long and arduous wait but nearly 11 years after his death the family of Michael Scarlett has received a glimpse of justice. On January 9, 2013, a Coroner’s Jury ruled that two police officers, Evon Blake and Warren Massy were to be charged with his murder. Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) is pleased with the verdict, having worked with Mr. Scarlett’s family during what seemed like an interminable struggle to have the matter heard in the Coroner’s Court.
Mr. Scarlett, who was 19 years old, was fatally shot by the police on April 9, 2002. Civilian witness reports indicate that around 8 a.m. that day, police officers from the Hunt’s Bay Police Station were in the Duhaney Park area on operation and told everyone to go into their homes. Mr. Scarlett was in his apartment and opened the door for the police party. After some conversation, Mr. Scarlett’s girlfriend was forced outside by the policemen. Shots were then heard. Afterwards, the police officers were seen to be turning over a mattress and taking out bloody sheets. The CCN report made at that time contained the usual, and increasingly discredited, account of the deceased firing on a joint police/military patrol. Mr. Scarlett’s girlfriend, who had felt intimidated by the police when attending court and had doubted that anything would come of the case, was also very pleased that the jury had recognised that Michael was killed in questionable circumstances.
The case was sent to the Coroner’s Court in 2005 but hearings did not begin until 2010 when a jury was finally empanelled. The members of the jury are to be commended for their dedication to service as they have patiently stayed committed to hearing all the evidence and arriving at a conclusion despite the fact that they were serving on the case for almost three years. After the jury returned its verdict, the accused police officers, Evon Blake and Warren Massey, were arrested and charged and have subsequently been granted bail. The importance of witnesses being willing to come forward and give evidence is exemplified by this case and JFJ urges everyone who has witnessed any of these fatal police shootings to be willing to testify in the interests of justice.
That the inquest has taken more than seven years to conclude is indicative of the systemic inefficiencies plaguing the justice system. JFJ is very disappointed with the continuing delays in the conclusion of Coroner’s Inquests into deaths at the hands of police, delays which have not been addressed by the creation of the Office of the Special Coroner. These delays, and the continuing failure of the police to summon jurors for Inquests and to attend and give evidence at these inquests, are a serious indictment on the justice system. JFJ hopes that the trial of the policemen in the Supreme Court will be expedited by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Courts as any further delays will only serve to undermine the people’s faith that Jamaica’s justice system can deliver justice.