Friday, February 23, 2018

Shot in the hip at Four Roads



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FREED IN 2004: Special Reserve Police (SRP) officer Nicholas Leith.

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xA POLICE station in a community is normally a symbol of safety and security for citizens. But almost 12 years ago it was not far from the Four Roads Police Station, Diego Martin, that 17-year-old Aneisha Neptune was shot dead by Special Reserve Police (SRP) officer Nicholas Leith.

She was a pupil at Mucurapo Senior Comprehensive, due to sit CXC exams, and a part-time sales girl at Curry Massala Roti Shop, located almost opposite the Four Roads Police Station.

On the night of May 1, 2000 Neptune had visited the station with her mother, Mary Molly Neptune, and her brother Robert.

Her elder brother, Simon, had been arrested by Leith and other officers for using obscene language and taken to the Four Roads Station for processing.

There were police reports that the women (Neptune and her mother) were behaving in a disorderly and abusive manner before leaving the station. There were conflicting reports of what happened next.

A police report stated that PC Leith left the station and was walking to a nearby shop when the women attacked him with stones. He was also said to have been bitten by the elder Neptune.

The report stated he got into a struggle with the two women, reached for his firearm and it "was discharged". Neptune died after being shot in the hip.

There was a different story, however, from people claiming to be eyewitnesses. They said Neptune went to use the pay phone located on the side street near the Four Roads Fire Station when Leith approached her, asked who she was calling and told her to get off the phone. Her sister Susan had reported that she was the person on the other line and she heard a man telling Neptune to come off the phone.

The witnesses said after the officer tried to get the teenager off the phone they began to struggle and the mother became involved. They reported that Leith drew his weapon and shot Neptune. An investigation and coroner's inquest were launched into the shooting.

The following month, June 2000, Neptune's brother Simon was admitted to the St Ann's Hospital. His mother had told the Express that her son blamed himself for his sister's death and had "lost his mind". He had burned a picture of the Virgin Mary, a gift to Neptune for her 15th birthday, and a Bible.

When the Express recently visited the Neptune's home at Sarganga Trace, Four Roads, Diego Martin, a number of neighbours said Simon Neptune was "a little off" mentally. Loud dancehall music from the radio played continually from the house, atop a small hill at the end of the street. There was no answer from the semi-dilapidated house except the barks of two mongrel dogs.

In the Amnesty International report 2001 Neptune's was the sole case under the category "police shootings" and the statement "there were allegations that police used excessive force". It was on November 2 that year that Leith was charged with her murder.

In July 2002 Deputy Chief Magistrate Deborah Thomas-Felix ordered that Leith stand trial on the lesser count of manslaughter. A total of 14 witnesses including Neptune's mother, Mary, gave evidence at the preliminary enquiry.

Leith was freed in 2004 of fatally shooting the teenager after High Court judge Justice Carlton Best upheld a no-case submission by his attorneys. Best said for Leith to be convicted, the prosecution had to present a clean and cogent case, but noted that there were inconsistencies in the evidence.

He had stated: "This is not a case of police brutality or a policeman shooting a girl and getting away with it. This is the case of a man facing a manslaughter charge. If he is to be convicted, the evidence has to be presented in a particular way."

Best also stated: "It is not the duty of the jury to stick their fingers into a pie and pull out which version (of the various stories presented by the prosecution) they must believe."

Seven years later in 2011, Mary Neptune, as Administratrix of the Estate of her daughter Aneisha Neptune, filed a civil suit against the Attorney General and Leith, claiming negligence.

The lawsuit claimed the State negligently employed Leith as a SRP in the police service, had allowed him to be armed with a service weapon knowing he had a history of narcotics addition, namely cocaine; that he had been previously suspended as a zookeeper on several occasions because of disciplinary offences, and was discharged from his position at the Emperor Valley Zoo in 1989 for disciplinary offences, including violent, aggressive, erratic behaviour, and an assault on another employee.

Justice Mira Dean-Armorer ruled in favour of Mary Neptune and ordered that she be awarded damages. She stated in her ruling that she found Leith's testimony to be contradictory, and ruled that he acted maliciously in discharging his firearm. She also found that the Attorney General was vicariously liable for the policeman's actions. The State, however, has appealed the ruling.

Leith is still a SRP and is also employed as a game warden.

The Express was informed that Mary Neptune has been living in England with another son. She returned to this country recently for the funeral of her son Robert, 38, who was shot and killed in January. Police are alleging that he was involved in criminal activities. Efforts to contact her were unsuccessful.