EDITORIAL: No business as usual

It was with some measure of relief that we processed the news – that the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda could launch an internal investigation into the conduct of the police prosecutor who recently walked free on charges of kidnapping and having sex with a 13-year-old girl. After all, with all that we know, it would certainly be an insult to injury, an assault, if you will, on the senses and sensibilities of society, if the end result were to be ‘business as usual!’ In the pursuit of justice, society must be made whole, and arguably, there is a gaping wound/hole in our society as a result of what many consider to be the unsatisfactory resolution to this most disturbing case.

Of course, the world over, police officers have been brought up on departmental charges, have had their guns taken away, relieved of their regular duties and given a do-nothing desk assignment where there are questions as to conduct. So, notwithstanding the fact that they may have been acquitted in criminal cases against them, and never mind the fact that the cases may have been dismissed on technical and other grounds, the police brass often take the above-mentioned steps to rid the department of the cloud that might be left hanging over the force. In other words, they conduct an internal investigation (officers are sometimes suspended with pay pending the outcome of the inquiry), because it is not (cannot be) business as usual.

Furthermore, in many cases where police officers have (gasp!) shot (mostly Black) (and mostly unarmed) suspects to death, even if the jury acquits that officer, the family of the victim often times files a civil case against the officer, and in many instances, juries have found for the plaintiffs and held the officer liable in the death of the victim. And what is more, even outside of a criminal conviction, a civil suit or a departmental investigation and charges, federal investigators often swoop in and launch an investigation of their own, especially if there is evidence to suggest that the police officers contravened federal civil rights laws.

Consider this report by Benjamin Mueller in THE NEW YORK TIMES of July 19, 2018: “The New York Police Department said on Thursday that it would immediately begin preparing for an internal administrative trial of Officer Daniel Pantaleo. . . Officer Pantaleo wrapped his arm around Mr. Eric Garner’s neck tightly [from behind] as he begged for breath during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk. An autopsy showed that Mr. Garner, who was in poor health, died from the chokehold and the compression of his chest during his arrest. A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on criminal charges. . . but Pantaleo will be administratively prosecuted by lawyers from the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an outside oversight agency that looks into police wrongdoing. . .” It should be noted that Officer Pantaleo is also under investigation by federal prosecutors for violating Garner’s civil rights.  

 The point is that, in other areas of the world, it is not business as usual – status quo ante, even though the officer and his clever lawyers might have been able to exploit a loophole in the law, or the incompetence of the prosecutors might have led to an acquittal or dismissal. Oversight bodies, such as the Police Service Commission often step in to ensure that the department remains above reproach, that the integrity of the officer’s work can withstand scrutiny, that there is some redress for grievances, that punitive measures be brought to bear for misbehaviour in and out of uniform, and, of course, as a means of showing that no one is above the spirit and the letter of the law or the department’s code of conduct, and the spirit of the law and the code of cannot be broken with impunity.

We believe that Acting Police Commissioner Atlee Rodney is on the right path when he declares that the case could be reopened internally!

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