KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Commissioner of Police Keith Miller’s number one regret since taking the job six years ago is not his rehiring of the three cops convicted of criminal charges after they beat Jemark Jackson into a one-week coma in 2008.
Jackson was 15 at the time of the assault and doctors say he would have died had he not received medical attention.
But Miller said on radio Wednesday night that he erred in not firing two different cops because of misconduct.
“I made a decision that I think I did the wrong thing. It has to do with two policemen’s conduct. I made the decision not to send them home. I think I erred not to send them home,” Miller said without giving details of the cops’ conduct and when the development occurred.
“I took a number of things into consideration why I did not send them home. But, [in] hindsight, I should have sent them home. I am not seeing a lot of progress in their part to turn around because, even after making that decision, they have not become better policemen,” said Miller, who announced on the programme that he has fired a cop who was driving without a licence an uninsured vehicle that struck and killed Steffan Cruickshank, 14, on Dec. 26.
He, however, noted that the two cops he regretted not firing are not any of the three detectives convicted of criminal offences in the Jemark Jackson case.
Senior Magistrate Donald Browne in February 2010 found detectives, Corporal Kasankie Quow and Constables Osrick James and Hadley Ballantyne, guilty of assaulting Jackson.
The cops could have been jailed for up to five years, but the magistrate ordered them to pay the court EC$1,500 each in one month or spend six months in prison.
Miller later reinstated the convicted detectives to their position.
The police chief, who appeared as a guest of the radio talk show Wednesday night, defended his decision to reinstate the convicted cops.
“Those three men, they were fighters. They are men who would go beyond the call of duty. What happened that night, I believe it happened out of exuberance, in the spirit of wanting to get the job done. They did that prior to that night and they are doing it even more now that they are reinstated,” Miller said of the convicted cops.
“So to me they were hard workers they were conscientious men. They are people who have the police force at heart. They are people who do not believe in having crimes perpetrated; because when a crime is perpetrated, for every crime there is a victim or victims. So we have a responsibility to protect the victims of crimes,” he added.
Miller, however, said that there is “a very thin line” and “on the spur of the moment, … you may tip the scale just a little and the court may say you exercised too much force or more force than is necessary. So it’s a judgement call. It’s an instant thing.”
Responding to the programme host’s comment that cops often get complete freedom to act as they wish, Miller said, “I don’t think so.
“I think we are put to the test; we are judged according to the law. We do not always get the benefit of the doubt. In fact, the three policemen in the Jemark Jackson case did not get the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
Cops arrested Jackson and another youth near a high school in Kingstown on Nov. 18, 2008, on reports that the youths had threatened another boy.
Jackson said he was taken to the Central Police Station, where the detectives threatened him with a gun, beat him with a hose, kicked him, and slammed him to the floor.
Dr. Hughes Dougan said that Emergency and Accidents Department record show that doctors were told that Jackson fell from a step and hit his stomach.
James and Ballantyne admitted in court that they lied to their superiors in a November 2008 report.
The magistrate said the case was “very, very sad and serious”, noting the policemen’s predicament and the fact that a 15-year-old was almost killed.
He, however, said the men acted out of “zeal” but cautioned them not to abuse their authority.
“What we have seen here is that he was badly beaten by the police and if [the doctors] had not taken him in hand at the time, he would have died”, the magistrate said.
Meanwhile, Miller also said on Wednesday that since becoming police chief he has not made any statements that he wishes to recant.
“None. I always try to be cautious. Yes, I am not perfect, I make mistakes, but form where I sit here, I cannot recall making a reckless statement that will be detrimental to me,” said Miller, who has been a cop for 33 years.