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Desrine Morris, a 51-year-old resident of Jones Town in Kingston, was taken from her home by police officers around 11:00 am on March 1, 2018, allegedly to be brought before a Judge that day. It is publicly reported that she died while in the custody of the police at around 5:30 PM on that day. She had not seen a Judge. Her family has not been allowed to see her body. And though no autopsy has occurred to determine the cause of her death, the police have immediately classified Desrine’s death as a suicide.

The Police report that she ‘hanged herself’ while in their custody. For the past week, her family members have reported that they have made repeated efforts to see her body. Their requests have been denied by both the police and the Tranquillity Funeral Home.  As we write, the family has been unable to confirm that she is in fact dead. They and members of the Jones Town Community view her alleged suicide with deep suspicion. As representatives of the family, Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) is deeply concerned about the circumstances of Desrine’s death. We call for transparency in the handling of the matter and an independent investigation.

Prompt and transparent assessment required

Requests to identify Ms Morris’ body were denied by police officers at the Half Way Tree Police Station and by the Tranquillity Funeral Home where her body reportedly lies. We understand that instructions were given to prohibit identification of Desrine’s body by the family until a post-mortem was completed – which differs from the approach taken in many other matters. Despite requests, no date has been given for the post-mortem to occur. JFJ has written to the Institute of Forensic Science and Legal Medicine, which has administrative responsibility, regarding the situation. An official response has not yet been received.

The family and community have received conflicting stories about Desrine’s death and are sceptical that she killed herself. To address this serious uncertainty, JFJ calls for the prompt scheduling of a post-mortem to establish the cause of death. The authorities must ensure that the family is notified of the post-mortem date in advance and that their ability to identify the body is accommodated. JFJ has made preliminary arrangements for the presence of an independent pathologist in the interest of transparency.

While JFJ has no opinion on the cause of Ms Morris’ death at this time, we are concerned that yet another person has died while in the custody and care of the police. The authorities must act swiftly to clarify the situation and respond to the legitimate distress and suspicion surrounding this death. JFJ will be monitoring the situation closely and will take all necessary steps to ensure that the truth is established.