This week, I had cause to attend the Carmichael Road police station on behalf of two clients who, among other things, appear to have been brutally beaten in police custody. The matter is now sub judice and so I will not delve into the particulars of that matter.
That said, it would not be fitting of me to allow the rude, disrespectful and incompetent conduct of many of the police officers who report to the Carmichael Road station for duty to slide. For the most part, many of the officers appear lost, totally out of touch with the law and their mandate as law enforcement officers and absolutely ignorant about the constitutional rights, guarantees and entitlements of citizens taken into custody.
There are some police officers who allow their uniform, and the very fact that they wear taxpayers clothes, to allow them to imagine themselves to be the law, to imagine that they themselves are above the law. Frankly, that is the impression that I quickly gleaned from many of the so-called police officers who work at the Carmichael Road police station.
To say that the vast majority of the officers who I encountered at that station over the last two days are unprofessional may, in itself, be the understatement of the week.
Firstly, I think many of the officers are in urgent need of re-training. On the face of it, these officers no doubt believe that the police and the attorneys of persons in their custody are enemies. We are not. We are all persons in pursuit of our clients, one of our clients is the state and one may be a particular individual. Yet, many of the officers at the Carmichael Road police station seem to be totally lost to the concept that arrested persons are constitutionally entitled to legal representation.
Who trained certain officers who appear to be boorish types? Who allowed them to don a uniform my father once wore and so many of my family members currently wear?
I have already made complaints about this to at least one Assistant Commissioner of Police, but I feel I need to enlighten a public that must know and be made aware of their inalienable rights.
On Tuesday, I visited the Carmichael Road station with another attorney. However, the other attorney could not produce an ID card issued by the Bahamas Bar Association and therefore the client was denied the right to her counsel on very trite reasoning. Bear in mind, counsel who accompanied me produced his passport, driver’s licence and a business card reflecting his name, law firm, position in the firm and telephone/fax number. He remained in the seating area and I attended to the client.
I was taken to the back of the station, where I met our client sitting next to an office desk. At the office desk was a policeman. There are four desks in the room. We were taken to a small room, the size of a closet and without a desk or chair by a sergeant who must have thought it funny, been trying to test me and/or was simply too disrespectful and wilfully ignoring a client’s right to access and speak to counsel in comfortable environs.
Believe it or not, they wanted me and my client – who was visibly distraught and seemingly in pain after allegedly being beaten brutally by the police – to stand up and have a conversation, within earshot of the officers seated at those desks. I immediately objected to the conditions under which the Sergeant sought to have me speak with my client and I began to walk back to the front, at which time the officer told me that if I didn’t wish to utilise the space provided I would have to wait an hour for an interview room or office to become available. However, I again challenged that and forcefully reminded her of my client’s constitutional rights and of the inconveniences that were seemingly being caused.
Some 15 minutes later, I was invited upstairs to a room and a police woman – who wore a blue, striped tunic that bore no numbers or ID – exited the room. I met my client there and began to interview her. Within five minutes, I was being asked if I was done with the interview by that very officer who had just objected. I asked her if she was serious, if she was “for real” and wanted to know why she was interrupting my interview which had just begun.
She asked how much more time I would need with my client and I told her “at least 15 minutes, maybe more”. However, five minutes later she re-appeared – this time with two officers. I informed them that this was not protocol, that they were breaching my client’s constitutional rights and that they were disrupting my interview.
I informed them that I would make a complaint about their conduct and that this would be reflected in our court documents. I noticed that the male officer accompanying them wore khakis and so I asked him his name and rank – he identified himself. I advised the Assistant Superintendent that since he was the most senior ranking officer present, I needed him to understand that I would wish to speak with my client without anyone lurking outside listening and without anyone persistently barging in.
What’s more, the officer who removed her ID numbers from her uniform so as not to be identified, behaved quite rudely and I asked her for her name, rank and number. She refused. I again reminded the Assistant Superintendent that he was the ranking officer and I requested that he have his officer identify herself to counsel. He did not.
It was at this point that I began to question the calibre of persons the police force is recruiting and what rubric the Commissioner and others use when promoting officers.
Once I had completed speaking to my client, she was interviewed by the police themselves.
Following that, the brother of our first client was interviewed. He too is our client. He was put in a room to the left of the entrance point behind the front desk. I was then invited in and attempted to interview him beforehand. Before my interview could properly begin, a Corporal pushed open the door, stating that she needed to see my client and needed to observe the interview. She stated that she needed to watch things because he “could jump out of a window and escape”. I became angry and wondered if these officers had gone absolutely bonkers, I wondered what level of training they were afforded at the police college. Beyond that, I wondered about their level of common courtesy. Admittedly, I was disappointed.
I protested and vehemently informed her that she was breaching my client’s constitutional right to counsel and to speak to counsel freely, privately and comfortably. Yet she continued that she needed to see him and wished for the door to be ajar, she continued to claim that he could jump out of a window. Foolishness!
Eventually, Constable 3555 Simmons – who at least appears to be reasonable and seemingly one of the more courteous officers – resolved the situation by “pulling the door to” and presenting a rational front.
What’s more, the very same Assistant Superintendent who had been upstairs and not have his junior officer – as is police policy – identify herself to inquiring counsel, came there and, in what could only amount to a lame attempt to gain popularity among his junior officers, encouraged a Corporal and all those gathered to “not allow this lawyer to intimidate them in their house!”
In their house! Imagine that!
What’s more, officers were heard on more than one occasion – during that second interview – asking if I’m not done with my interview yet, making utterances such as “he aint done yet”, “why is he taking so long?”, etc. It was like being in the twilight zone and the level of unprofessionalism is an indictment of the police force, its current standing and its future. Surely, not all police officers are like this … I know. I have many friends and family who understand policing and the law. But, a few bad apples could spoil the whole bunch and if I were the Commissioner of Police, I would transfer many officers from the Carmichael Road police station. The station reeks of unprofessionalism.
Did they want to eavesdrop on the discussions between myself and my clients?
Even on Wednesday, when I attended the police interview for one of our clients (the other had been charged and I appeared in court and got her bail), I heard officers – who assumed I was perhaps in the room alone with him as opposed to knowing that this time it was their interview – saying “oh how long he been in there?” That’s just absurd.
And so, the Commissioner, the Ministry of National Security and society at large has its work cut out. We have police officers, who have sworn to serve and protect taxpayers, behaving as if they are cowboys and cowgirls from the Wild West who can do as they please. I have heard of officers speaking to persons in very disrespectful and discourteous ways. I witnessed some of it as I observed certain officers dealing with persons seeking help at the station or simply treating arrested persons like dogs.
Has anyone seen the condition that arrested persons are held in at the Carmichael Road police station? Has anyone seen the filthy, smelly, cramped cells?
And so, today is a crash course in the law for certain police officers, particularly those at the Carmichael Road police station who cannot see the forest for the trees. This is a crash course for those officers who hold themselves out as the law, but know nothing of it:
1. The constitution is the supreme law of the land. In light of that, article 19 (2) of the constitution states:
“Any person who is arrested or detained shall be informed as soon as is reasonably practicable, in a language he understands, of the reasons for his arrest and detention and shall be permitted, at his own expense, to retain and instruct without delay a legal representative of his own choice and to hold private communication with him; and in the case of a person who has not attained the age of 18 years he shall also be afforded a reasonable opportunity for communication with his parent or guardian.”
2. Certain police officers should be made aware that though a person may be in their custody, per article 20 (2) of the constitution:
“Every person who is charged with a criminal offence – (a) shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved or has pleaded guilty.”
And yes, it’s also applicable to those persons who may be in police custody and have not and perhaps will not be charged.
3. I remind the Commissioner himself and the powers that be about article 121 of the constitution that speaks to the removal and exercise of disciplinary control over persons serving in the police force. Indeed, one could use the Carmichael Road police station as a test case to show the lack of discipline within the ranks by some wayward officers.
4. I invite police officers and the public at large to become familiar with what can and cannot be done, with their rights and the rights of their countrymen. Frankly, I encourage everyone to read the cases of Kenlin v Gardenier and the local case Tamara Merson v Drexel Cartwright and Attorney General of the Bahamas. These are all eye opening and will help those who may be blind as to their rights and the rights of others.
Lastly, I invite the Commissioner of Police to inform his officers that once asked for their name, rank and number they are mandated to give it. They do not have the choice of saying “no”.