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Plea bargain with criminals; govt must consider perceived value of death squads- Ramkarran

Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran

Prominent Guyanese Senior Counsel, Ralph Ramkarran on Sunday recommended that government proceed cautiously on the issue of death squads and that the State and criminals agree to lighter sentences in exchange for vital information, in the wake of claims by Sean Hinds that he was a member of a death squad.

The lawyer asked that the police and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Chambers use the 2008 Criminal Procedure (Plea Bargaining and Plea Agreement) Act to negotiate deals with criminals to provide information about others and appear as prosecution witnesses against them in exchange for lighter sentences.

 “Prior to the passing of this legislation, and even after, many criminals have evaded prosecution by the failure of the Police to creatively implement plea bargaining. To allow for this to happen and to put more criminals behind bars the Government needs to be cautious and not shoot from the hip, or lip, at every opportunity, or news cycle,” he said in his latest ‘Conversation Tree’ column titled “Sean Hinds”.

Ramkarran also cautioned government against knee-jerk reactions by effectively ruling out amnesty for persons with potentially valuable information that could lead to the arrest and prosecution of other perpetrators. He accused government of interfering in the process rather than allowing police, prosecutors, defence counsel, judges and juries to carry out their work uninhibited. “Hinds did not ask the Government for amnesty, but the Government rejected it even before a request is made. The rejection of amnesty in this way constitutes government interference in the process of criminal investigation, in the prosecutorial process and in the pursuit of justice because it sends a message to the concerned agencies which need to work without oppressive messages of this kind,” he said.

Ramkarran observed that Hinds, in his interviews, has claimed that he was a death squad member but has not implicated himself in the killing if anyone except his claimed presence at the scene of the shooting death of then opposition political activist, Ronald Waddell.in January 2006.

The former long-serving People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) executive member also urged readers and the A Partnership for National Unity+ Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC)-led government to consider the emergence of death squads at a time when the security forces were either unable or unwilling to go after heavily armed criminals during the 2002 to 2006 period who had targeted mainly East Indians.

“The truth of these events from the perspective of the death squad is available from Sean Hinds and others members of the death squad. With the truth comes justice but the truth could also confirm to those who felt under siege at the time that the security forces were unable or unwilling to protect them, while the death squad was.

The past and continuing consequences of crime largely, though not exclusively, against Indians and the impact on their general outlook, political, ethnic and otherwise, is hardly ever openly spoken about, except once many years ago, courageously, by Eusi Kwayana. Sean Hinds is seen as a criminal by the Government, and is an unlikely hero, but one section of the population may well view him as a savior in a difficult time. APNU+AFC’s long-term viability depends much on if it is able to grapple with, and treat with sensitivity, this dichotomous reality of Guyana,” said Ramkarran, a former Speaker of the National Assembly.

Evidence led in a United States (US) court revealed that then Health Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy had authorized the purchase of sophisticated mobile phone interception and caller-location equipment that is only sold to governments. Such equipment had been found in the possession of now convicted drug lord Shaheed ‘Roger’ Khan and several of his cohorts in a bullet proof vehicle by a military patrol. Prior to Khan’s arrest in neighbouring Suriname, he had published several statements in a section of the press claiming that he had prevented a coup against the then government.

Hinds has said that as far as knew there was a death squad, of which he was a part, and a phantom squad. He has credited the death squad, which he claimed had received instructions and guns from the Criminal Investigations Department, with restoring peace at a time when several criminals had been on the rampage.

The four-year long violent crime spree began in February 2002 when five dangerous criminals escaped from the Georgetown Prison and immediately sought refuge in the East Coast Demerara village of Buxton. There, they recruited and attracted more persons and were supplied with assault rifles and ammunition.

Among the weapons were several AK-47 assault rifles that had been stolen from a bond at the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Camp Ayanganna headquarters.

Then anti PPP-Civic-led administration activists had labeled the gunmen Freedom Fighters and members of the African Resistance who had been retaliating against police brutality and other acts.