The family of Barrackpore resident Manohar Sonnylal is owed an apology by the acting Commissioner of Police and, indeed, by the entire justice system of this country for a denial of justice.
On Friday, more than three years after Mr Sonnylal was killed in a vehicular accident, the case against the defendant, Timothy De Leon, was dismissed after the police officer who had laid the charge failed to turn up in court.
In dismissing the matter at the Princes Town Magistrates’ Court, Magistrate Deborah Quintyne noted that January 10 had been listed as the final date on which the matter would be heard. In the circumstances, she felt obliged to dismiss the case against Mr De Leon who had been charged with dangerous driving leading to Mr Sonnylal’s death in 2011. When asked, officers gave conflicting information regarding the whereabouts of the officer who had laid the charge.
Such police disaster is magnified to mass proportions at the nearby Princes Town Police Station whose notoriety was outlined in yesterday’s Sunday Express. This station’s sins range from the infamous case of the “rats” who ate the cocaine evidence to a series of prisoner escapes, several of whom later claimed that they bribed officers to facilitate their getaway.
The most recent charge against the station comes from 18-year-old Jamerson John who claims officers stripped him to his underwear and set fire to his genitals after he refused to admit to a robbery.
If there is a place crying out for a thorough investigation it is the Princes Town Police Station. All the signs indicate a rotten state of affairs there. Without prejudicing the legal matters involving the teenager, it would be fair to say that the multiple incidents warrant a sharp focus on the management and officers at Princes Town station going back several years. We shudder to think about the impact of all this on public confidence in the officers of this station.
The responsibility for the integrity of police operations throughout the country falls squarely on the shoulders of acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams. After apologising to the Sonnylal family, he must explain why the system failed to ensure the prosecuting officer’s presence in court on Friday. While this is far from being an isolated incident, it will provide the public with some insight into the institutional weaknesses that allow the continuing perversion of justice by absent officers. The people of Trinidad and Tobago cannot continue to be robbed of justice by police failures which could originate from any number of sources including mismanagement, poor communication systems or outright corruption.
To be fair to the acting CoP, he inherited a poisoned chalice. These are long-standing problems that have defied one Commissioner after another. But he is in the job now and there is no denying that in applying for it, he would have felt himself adequately equipped.
The Princes Town Police Station is one of the opportunities waiting for him to prove that he has something of what the job takes.