GUNS were drawn and pointed in his direction as he made his way through the West Kingston area in 2010.
However, Victor Hemmings had no idea that he was staring down the barrels of what were possibly several guns. It was only after a senior member of the Jamaica Defence Force held onto his shoulder and waved to his colleagues just in front, but partially hidden, that Hemmings realised he was in the line of fire and a potential target.
He had been mistaken for the then wanted man and now convicted drug dealer, Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke. Why was he even in the area at the time? Hemmings was performing his duties as an investigator with the Office of the Public Defender.
This incident happened a few weeks after tempers flared and situations reached hostile extremes in West Kingston as members of the security forces and armed thugs clashed, while lawmen searched for Coke. The former Tivoli Gardens strongman was later arrested and extradited to the United States where he pleaded guilty and is now serving a 23-year prison sentence.
“The senior JDF member then said to me that I really looked like Mr Coke,” Hemmings told the Jamaica Observer on Friday. “It was then that I realised that the guns were pointed in my direction and naturally I was shocked, as I couldn’t understand why they mistook me for Mr Coke.”
“I then made the decision to always wear the bib which would indicate that I am an agent of the Office of the Public Defender,” declared Hemmings.
Hemmings and his colleagues from the Office of the Public Defender visited the Jamaica Observer offices on Beechwood Avenue in St Andrew last week. When the group of investigators was questioned about the dangers faced on the job, they all offered that the Tivoli Gardens operation four years ago, which saw, by official count, 73 people killed, was like nothing they had experienced before.
Hemmings, a trained teacher and probation officer with the Department of Correctional Services before he became an investigator, told the Sunday Observer that he chose his current profession.
“I became an investigator as I have a passion for assisting persons in general, and the position provided me with the opportunity to assist persons who may have suffered injustice at the (hand of the) State and/or their agents,” Hemmings said. “It is a job that complements my skill of listening and my love for detail.”
He admitted that the job of an investigator can at times be dangerous, but insisted that they cannot be deterred because someone has to investigate to fulfil the mandate of the office for which he works.
Recalling his experience in Tivoli Gardens, Hemmings said: “I was there from the second day and the incursion was in progress. We had a couple near-misses in terms of shots, I remember a member of the team saying ‘oh, that one was close’, but it gave us the opportunity to see what was going on.
“We saw a couple bodies and we saw the destruction that had taken place and it gave us a better appreciation of what had transpired,” Hemmings continued. “Yes, I was nervous, no bulletproof vest or anything, we were just walking along, (and) it was a team of us, including Herro Blair, former political ombudsman and someone from the Red Cross.”
Charged with investigating allegations made against the State or statutory bodies that engage constitutional issues, injustice and maladministration, investigators from the Office of the Public Defender will sometimes find themselves in dangerous situations, and with a complement of five people in their investigation department, Acting Public Defender Matondo Mukulu admitted that they could use a few more.
“We could do with more investigators because of the nature of the current cases that we have, but also in terms of where we want to go,” Mukulu said.
However, the work goes on. And, if you are woman and an investigator, the dangers of the job is compounded further.
“Our job is very difficult and as a woman, myself and Ms (Kayla) Beckford, when we do go out on investigation in the rural areas and sometimes in the Corporate Area, for want of a better term, the inner-city, we do try to go with a male counterpart to assist us in carrying out our jobs,” investigator Eavean Hylton explained. “But at the end of the day, what is most important is the service we are offering to our complainants and we cannot (not) investigate because of fear or because we are trying to preserve our lives.
“Yes we want to preserve our lives, but we still have that service that we need to offer,” Hylton continued. “So wherever the matter is or wherever the complaint lies, we have to go there to provide that service that we are mandated to do.”
She explained that having a male colleague around, especially when visiting some areas unprotected, makes the reception a little better.
Beckford, who is the director of investigation, said that as investigators they may also experience some amount of resistance because, some people are of the opinion that they are only for criminals.
Hemmings also shared an on-the-job experience while observing post-mortems in the May Pen Cemetery.
“I remember when we were in the cemetery, Ms Hylton was with me. They were doing the post-mortems on the bodies in the cemetery and we had to observe that,” Hemmings stated. “Shots were being fired and everybody was going down and holding on to their weapons and I had my camera in my hand and I was down.”
Hylton, on that day, sought refuge in an armoured police vehicle.
“It was quite an experience, nothing that any of us here were ever prepared for, not to mention some of the soldiers and officers on the ground, you could see that they were taken aback
by the whole situation,” Hemmings continued.
Despite the ever-present and somewhat lingering danger, Hemmings is committed to his task and told the Sunday Observer that his family also supports him, because they too appreciate the importance of the job he does.

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