The muffled sounds of grief emanating from the widow of Selwyn Knight, as she clung to loved ones at the District “A” Magistrates’ Court today, awaiting the appearance of the police officer who fatally shot her husband 35 days ago, yet echoed that call for reasonableness and fairness.
Said Marleen Knight: “I want justice because my husband was a hardworking man and he’s the one that supported the family; and now that he’s gone, it is hard; and I want justice in every way possible, because it isn’t fair.”
That the process took more than a month after the Knight family had lost their breadwinner may be viewed as a tarnish on the imagery the police mandate “to serve, protect, and reassure” conjures up.
Selwyn Knight, who was merely protecting his property from a thief, was undeserving of the March 15 tragedy that befell him. And what is noteworthy is that the perpetrator Jamal Weekes was arrested two days afterwards and brought to the law courts, where he confessed and was sentenced to two years in jail.
Yet, it took Constable Everton Gittens, who was reportedly off duty on that fateful Sunday when he fired the fatal shot, 34 days later to be charged with murder, wounding and endangering life. Much like Andrew Pilgrim, the attorney-at-law for the Knight family, we wonder why it would take so long.
“I still find there is a delay issue here. Yes, we should be satisfied that something has been done, but that period of 30 how many days of uncertainty, I would feel very uncomfortable with it,” said the lawyer. “And I wonder if Andrew Pilgrim was charged if I would not be before the court two days later, if the circumstances were the circumstances that existed in broad daylight –– a living witness who could say what happened etcetera . . . . I am still a little bit concerned about that.”
The public’s vocal disappointment with how the matter was seemingly handled is understandably justified, especially in the absence of timely, accurate updates from the Royal Barbados Police Force itself. Where justice is not swift, it is always perceived to be denied.
Still, we acknowledge today’s statement from the Assistant Commissioner of Police Mark Thompson who attempted to assure
the public of an impartial and transparent investigation with the “greatest alacrity”.
“We operated a due process model of criminal justice, which has elaborate protections for accused persons. Some of these protections are enshrined in the Constitution Of Barbados, including the right to a fair trial. In small jurisdictions where everyone knows everyone, this right has to be jealously guarded.
“It is this reality,” Assistant Commissioner Thompson added, “which often constrains the dissemination of information to the public, before and after a person has been charged, and even during the course of a trial. Indeed, the RBPF would be very irresponsible to publicize information that it knows or should have known is likely to frustrate the right of an accused person to a fair trial, resulting in a legal challenge to the conduct of the trial itself.”
Indeed, we are aware of an accused’s right to a fair trial –– and ever should it be upheld. But we proffer that the RBPF may not have done enough to correct perceived chinks in its armour when having to deal with its very own on matters that are unsatisfactory to the public.
The situation only deepens the case for an independent body to investigate the conduct of members of the force when warranted, ever mindful that no one is above the law.
This high-profile case before us has only just begun, and we are clear about the fact that Mr Gittens has only been charged, and not convicted of any crime.
Before Almighty God, we trust this case and the resulting verdict deliver justice to all.