The tragic death of 12-year-old Shemar Patrick Weekes last Thursday, and the investigation into the circumstances of his demise have raised another issue, which it is hoped will be given full vent by the authorities at some stage.
We often take it for granted that in cases of murder or other homicides we are equipped with the specialists to determine cause of death and all the other attendant scientific information. Successful prosecutions and/or investigations into cases where there has been loss of life invariably hinge on the important aspect of causation of death.
In a public statement yesterday by Assistant Commissioner of Police (in charge of crime management and investigations) Mark Thompson, as it related to the deceased Shemar, he stated: “The Royal Barbados Police Force has an obligation to its internal and external clients to deliver professional investigative services at all times. Forensic evidence often forms part of these services; frequently it is the most critical determinant of the integrity of the services.”
Of course, the erudite senior officer and attorney-at-law was on the ball and profoundly accurate in his assessment.
His comments came after a post-mortem of Shemar’s corpse was halted. Mr Thompson would further articulate: “As a consequence, the RBPF always seeks to ensure it employs the best forensic resources available to it. Having considered all the issues in the case of Shemar Patrick Weekes and the dire consequences of misinformation, it is the reasoned judgement of the authorities that a more scientific approach, which is not available here, should be employed. Hence, there has been a delay in the conduct of the post-mortem. Nevertheless, measures to procure these scientific services have already been employed.”
Once again, as the consummate professional that Mr Thompson is, his actions and pronouncements were in keeping with the proper policing procedures for which he has an excellent reputation.
It is our understanding, and by definition, that forensic pathology relates to the investigation and evaluation of cases of sudden, unexpected, suspicious and violent death, or any other circumstance where untoward loss of life occurs. Forensic pathologists are highly trained medical doctors who determine the cause of cessation of life and the manner of that death, whether it be murder, suicide, natural or otherwise. Forensic pathology also determines time of death, according to our research.
We are aware of the field of clinical pathology and understand that clinical pathologists exist in the island. Again, according to our research, this scientific field covers a whole gamut of laboratory functions and deals with diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. Clinical pathologists, we understand, are doctors with special training who examine blood, urine, and other body fluid specimens to observe levels of certain chemicals and other substances in
Following this a determination to conduct additional study is then made based on those test results.
In essence, the roles of a forensic pathologist and a clinical pathologist, though having areas of overlap, are not fundamentally the same. That Mr Thompson would suggest, with respect to Shemar’s post-mortem that “forensic evidence . . . is the most critical determinant of the integrity of the services” and that “having considered all the issues in the case of Shamar Patrick Weekes . . . it is the reasoned judgement of the authorities that a more scientific approach which is not available here should be employed”, one can only assume that the initial examination yesterday was not conducted by a forensic pathologist.
The questions must therefore be asked: was the post-mortem initiated by a clinical pathologist, and if so, why? Does Barbados have a registered forensic pathologist resident in this jurisdiction, and if not, why not?
Have previous post-mortems related to murder or other forms of homicide been conducted by a clinical or forensic pathologist, and if they have not been conducted by a forensic pathologist, what is the evidential value of the findings of a clinical pathologist as it relates to cause of death?
Of course, these are not questions to be answered by Mr Thompson or the Royal Barbados Police Force. Mr Thompson and his colleagues are employees of the state and depend on Government to provide the tools by which they function. The onus is thus on the Government of Barbados to tell its citizenry why the Royal Barbados Police Force, in the words of Mr Thompson has to seek out “a more scientific approach which is not available here”.
After all, there are many at her Majesty’s Prisons, Dodds, and surely more to follow, who will be depending on proper forensic pathological examinations of corpses for whom they have been accused or convicted for sending to their demise.