More Issues Surrounding Susan Bogle’s Death in August Town, Jamaica

Here is more on the fatal shooting of Susan Bogle in August Town, last week. On May 31, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) began to investigate Ms. Bogle’s death, which took place on May 27, 2020. In a press release, INDECOM said it was aware that there are “more questions than answers forthcoming in the early stages of the investigation,” but assured the public that the investigation will be thorough, and that her family will be kept informed.

There were no body cameras worn by members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), allegedly responsible for the shooting death, nor was there any other video recording, so the case relies on the accounts of the concerned officers; and as INDECOM notes, “the post mortem examination and report, ballistic report, forensic reconstruction and eye witness reports will assist in securing an independent account.”

INDECOM also reports:

Since the investigation commenced, the investigative team has been in the community daily, seeking witnesses to the incident and persons with other viable information. We urge anyone with information to contact our offices at (876) 968-8875, (876) 968-1932 or message us on whatsapp at 876-553-5555.

Our crime scene examiners have collected all viable forensic material for testing. Test firing of the weapons and examination of the recovered spent casings will be conducted, and the ballistic report provided after completion. INDECOM will also be consulting our international forensic expert who will provide assistance on this case.

On the day of the incident, Susan Bogle’s body was photographed and then forensically secured, and is being stored pending the post mortem examination by the Government Pathologist.

Concerned officers attended the offices of the Commission and interviews were conducted under oath. As the investigation continues, additional officers from the joint police/military team will be interviewed. All members from the team are required to provide statements to the Commission.

Jamaica Defence Force soldiers on duty in St. Catherine. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

This tragic occurrence highlights at least two troubling issues: Firstly, the body cams (or lack of them). At last Sunday’s (May 31) press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister (which had some bizarre moments) Prime Minister Andrew Holness said “our security forces are stretched now” with the pressures of the pandemic, curfews and more. He said he personally is “very concerned” about the increase in incidents involving the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF).

At the same briefing, Lt. Gen Ricardo “Rocky” Meade, the JDF Chief of Staff, stressed that the JDF “abides by the system of independent investigation” by both itself and INDECOM (who he says were immediately informed and on site) and that the JDF is giving INDECOM all the support they need. It is standard practice, he said, to notify INDECOM within 24 hours of any incident. He stressed that there was a “very well established program” of training, education and enforcement on human rights. OK. But – at least for now – no body cams. Somehow the concept of body cams for our security forces has never got off the ground, despite a donation by the U.S. Embassy some years ago. Were they ever high on the “must have” list, though? No, and with COVID-19, they will likely not be in the budget.

Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness (centre), speaks with son of the late Susan Bogle, Omari Stephens (left), during his visit to August Town on Wednesday (June 3). At right is Minister of Science and Technology, and Member of Parliament for the area, Hon. Fayval Williams. (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

On June 3 the Prime Minister visited the home in August Town where Ms. Bogle’s son, Omari Stephens lost his mother, after speaking with him on the phone. Fine. It is commendable and indeed desirable, for a political leader to express his personal condolences and meet with the family under such circumstances. The Prime Minister told Mr. Stephens: “I wouldn’t mind you working with us on the positive side of things to show Jamaicans, out of the depths of despair there is hope and we can still keep a positive outlook on life.” At this point I will try to stem my instinctive cynicism; but this is the way with politicians, however well meaning.

The level of social media coverage was overly dramatic. Although I found it all quite positive at first glance, it was pointed out to me that a drone was used to zoom over the depressed community, and that the PM’s entourage and camera crew was too large. It was hardly a smaller, more intimate meeting. 

A television report had already highlighted the deplorable conditions in which Ms. Bogle lived, with one reporter peering through a large hole in one side of a wood construction. That image was enough. Social media is a powerful tool that has to be carefully calibrated, especially in such a situation. Somehow, the coverage of the Prime Minister’s visit just helped to portray Ms. Bogle, her family and the entire community as trapped in an impoverished cycle, helpless victims. It also repositioned August Town as a high-crime, volatile area, now – and as the Prime Minister carefully pointed out, back in the “top 20” of crime hot spots. As Mr. Stephens said to Reuters reporter Kate Chappell, “It’s as if living here is the ultimate sin.”

A night scene in August Town. (My photo)

This is not helpful. The issue is not that her house needs fixing. It is that a woman was allegedly killed by a soldier and that her family are grieving and seeking justice. INDECOM pointed out at a press briefing this week that the JDF has killed five citizens up to the end of May. (I missed the briefing and there is apparently no recording of it. It should have been live-streamed).

Note: INDECOM points out on its website:

INDECOM is required by law to investigate all use of force cases which involve allegations against members of the security forces and Agents of the State. INDECOM must do their due diligence and maintain independence in the investigation of all cases. INDECOM cannot prejudge that the use of force was justified.

More updates to follow…
Susan Bogle was allegedly shot dead by a JDF soldier in August Town. (Photo: Twitter)

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