A former resident of Tivoli Gardens testified yesterday that a policewoman twice saved his life after he was severely beaten by a soldier using a baton and tree branch.
He said that the soldier, whom he’s unable to identify, threatened to kill him after accusing him of being one of the men who fired at members of the security forces on May 24, 2010, the day the lawmen launched an operation in Tivoli Gardens to capture community strongman Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke and restore law and order to the barricaded area.
Jermaine McLeod gave the gripping evidence during the televised enquiry at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston.
McLeod, who lived with his mother, stepfather and brothers in the community two years prior to the operation, said the soldier beating him threatened to kill him after he said he didn’t know Coke.
He said he and other residents of the community were taken by the soldiers, at nightfall, to a section of the community called Java where other people were seated on the ground.
He testified that after 30 minutes there, the soldier who had been beating him earlier called him and asked him if he knew Coke. He said he knew of Coke but wasn’t friendly with him. He said the soldier accused him of lying and told him to sit back and think about it. Later, McLeod said, the soldier called him back and asked if he was ready to talk about Coke.
McLeod said he told the soldier no, and the soldier strapped his hands together until they were swollen. When he complained, he said the solider took him up and swung his elbow in his face and told him that he was going to kill him. He said that the soldier was leading him away to a building when the policewoman interceded and asked the soldier where he was taking him.
“He’s mine,” McLeod said the soldier told the female cop.
The witness testified that an army truck came and residents were placed in it. While walking to the truck, he said, the same soldier told him to crawl to the truck and again started beating him while he was on the ground. McLeod said he and the other men were held by the neck and positioned as human shields as the truck left for the JDF headquarters. On the journey, he said, the soldiers were kicking the men.
He said he suffered broken teeth, among other injuries, as a result of the beating he received.
McLeod said that at the army base, the soldier looked at his hand and told him that he was one of those who “fired gun”. He testified during his evidence led by Simone Mayhew — who appeared with Queen’s Counsel Garth McBean for the commission — that the soldier who was beating him set his right hand beneath the back tyre of the truck and told the driver to “go slow”.
He showed the commission his fingers and said they have been “crooked” as a result of the incident. He said he spent about two days at the army base before being transported to the National Arena and three days later he was given a slip of paper and told to go. He said also that he never received any medical attention for his injuries, even though he was taken to a man at the army base who was said to be a doctor.
The witness testified that earlier in the day, on May 24, 2014, his game shop and home were burnt down and he suffered loss of $2.3 million. He said he and his family went to a neighbour’s place and that a section of that house caught fire.
McLeod said when he was leaving with the occupants after the fire started, the soldier who had beaten him told him to put down the wheelchair-bound owner, whom he identified as Miss Sissy, then started assaulting him with a baton.
Prior to that, he testified, he saw men who were not members of the security forces running with guns past him. He, however, testified that he didn’t see the men firing at members of the security forces.
At another point, McLeod testified under cross-examination from attorney Linton Gordon, one of the lawyers representing the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), that he had seen men with guns in the community before.
McLeod, who is a deportee from Canada, also denied suggestions from Gordon that he wasn’t abused by members by the JDF.
Just over 70 people, including two members of the security forces, were killed in the incident. Following the operation, scores of residents complained about being abused by lawmen, told of wanton extrajudicial killings and the deliberate destruction of their properties.
McLeod was also cross-examined by attorney Deborah Martin.
Questioned by attorney Michael Lorne, McLeod described his treatment as “torture”.
The enquiry continues today with a new witness.
The enquiry is slated to run for three months, but commission chairman Sir David Simmons said that based on the number of witnesses — some 500 — the proceedings are expected to last longer. Other members of the panel are retired justice of the Court of Appeal of Jamaica Hazel Harris and Professor Anthony Harriott, director of the Institute of Criminal Justice and Security at the University of the West Indies.