Jamaica: UK firearms consultant says police wrong on “Braeton Seven” executions

Following the failure of the Jamaican government to deliver justice in the case, the organisation will be helping relatives of those killed by the police to take their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The report, Jamaica: The Killing of the Braeton Seven - A Justice System on Trial, is launched in Kingston today. Amnesty International sought the expertise of firearms consultant Jon Vogel to assess the evidence relating to the gunshot wounds received by the seven men killed in a police raid in Braeton in March 2001. Referring to two of those killed, Jon Vogel concluded that:

“In my opinion, it is inconceivable that Curtis Smith and Andre Virgo were shot in the manner described by the police. It would not be possible to achieve the pattern of gunshot wounds on each of the young men's heads in the manner described by the police in their statements.

“I suspect that their heads were made temporarily immobile while the shots were fired at relatively close proximity.”

Amnesty International’s report examines the police version of the killing of the seven young men and boys, statements of the local community in Braeton and the subsequent Coroner's Court inquiry. The report includes the views of experts in ballistics, forensics, firearms, and pathology. All the experts consulted were clear and unanimous in their view that the evidence overwhelmingly pointed to the seven being the victims of extrajudicial executions.

In witness statements the police claimed to have come under fire from inside the victims’ house and that they subsequently returned fire on entering the house, shooting at the “flashes” visible from the guns of those shooting. All seven young men were killed outright after receiving 46 gunshot wounds in total, of which 15 were to the head.

Amnesty International’s report shows that the Jamaican Constabulary Force continues to kill at an alarming rate, with 133 people killed by the police force in 2002 alone. To Amnesty International’s knowledge, not one police officer has been convicted of an extrajudicial killing since 1999, despite over 600 killings at the hands of the police since that date, many in disputed circumstances.

Amnesty International UK’s Director Kate Allen, said: “The investigation into the deaths of the Braeton Seven has been totally inadequate. The evidence overwhelmingly points to the young men having been extrajudicially executed.

“The relatives of the Braeton Seven have seen their quest for justice go unheard by the authorities in Jamaica. They must now look to the international community to continue their fight to find out the truth about how their sons died.”

Kate Allen added: “Violence and crime are rife in Jamaica. The chilling fact is that the police are increasingly part of the problem, not the solution.

“Police officers are allowed to kill with impunity. Trials of officers are almost unheard of; convictions even rarer. The government must take urgent steps to make the police accountable to the citizens they serve.”

Amnesty International fully supports the efforts of the police and the government as they seek to reduce crime in Jamaica. However this cannot be achieved by a police force that enjoys immunity from the law. Crime is not stopped by the authorities sanctioning law-breaking by the police through lack of effective action. Kate Allen added: “The police have a right and a duty to protect themselves and others when they are under threat. But officers who violate human rights are increasing the level of criminality, not tackling it.

“The police need public support in their fight against crime but the public will not trust a police force that unjustifiably kills their fellow citizens.”

In recent weeks, the government of Jamaica appears to have taken decisive action against corruption in the Jamaican Constabulary Force. Amnesty International calls upon the government to take similar measures to hold police officers accountable for committing extrajudicial executions. Background

Seven young men and boys, Reagon Beckford, aged 15, Lancebert Clark, 19, Christopher Grant, 17, Curtis Smith, 20, Andre Virgo, 20, Dane Reynaldo Whyte, 19, and Tamayo Wilson, 20 - now commonly known as the “Braeton Seven” were killed on 14 March 2001, just before dawn, by officers from the Crime Management Unit, a specialist unit within the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

Local residents gave testimonies detailing how the young men begged for mercy before being shot one at a time by law enforcement officers. Although investigations were conducted by the police and an independent civilian investigative unit, no one has been held accountable. A coroner’s inquest later returned a 6-4 verdict that no-one should be held criminally responsible for the youths' deaths.

Jamaica currently suffers from an extremely high crime rate. In 2002, a reported 1045 people were the victim of murder, including 16 members of the police force. UN statistical sources indicate that it has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world.

The report will be launched at a press conference at 11:00 am local time (16:00 GMT) on 13 March at Somerset Suite, Courtleigh Hotel, Knutsford Boulevard, Kingston, Jamaica.

Background information and other news on Jamaica is available online.

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