Last Updated on Wednesday, 8 February 2023, 14:52 by Denis Chabrol
Former Region Four Police Divisional Commander, Assistant Commissioner Edgar Thomas on Wednesday told the 2020 Elections Commission of Inquiry (COI) that at the height of a bomb scare at the District Four Returning Office that informed an Election Commissioner that he could no longer protect him because the heavily armed riot squad had entered that Office.
Under cross-examination by Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes, who is representing then Deputy Chief Elections Officer Roxanne Myers, Mr Thomas said he was uncertain about the police force’s Standing Orders for bomb disposal but the protocols require law enforcers to assist with the evacuation of buildings if they are engaged.
Mr Thomas said he could not recall Ms Myers asking persons to leave the building, but in the afternoon of March 5, 2020, he did not form the view that lives were in danger. However, he informed Elections Commissioner Sase Gunraj that “I can no longer protect his life” after members of the Tactical Services Unit entered the Region Four Returning Office with their firearms. “After my colleagues would have entered the Ashmin’s Building heavily armed, I would have said to Mr Gunraj that I can no longer protect his life and safety because I am no longer in charge of the operation,” he said. He agreed with Mr Hughes that he was under the impression that the armed police posed a threat to Mr Gunraj’s life because the TSU members were “rogue elements” at that time.
After Mr Hughes sought to further question Mr Thomas , he did not include the words “at the time”, resulting in Inquiry Commissioner Retired Justice Carl Singh informing the lawyer that “you’re being selective” and advised that the material words “at the time” should not be omitted as he is not labelling the TSU a rogue element.
Mr Thomas said he reported his view to then Deputy Commissioner (Operations) Maxine Graham, implying that at that time they were rogues because the TSU entered the Ashmin’s Building on Hadfield and High Streets, Stabroek although “I did not request them, I am not in control of them (and) as a result I would be unable to answer for their behaviour.”
The former Divisional Commander, who is now the Head of the Presidential Guard, said he concluded that Mr Gunraj’s life was at risk after two TSU members arrived with their firearms at their side and after he informed them that he did not need their services, they exited and returned heavily armed.
He admitted that there was chaos but did not go to check on the security of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, Retired Justice Claudette Singh because she was “safely placed in a room.” He said he was aware through a junior rank that Ms Singh was in a room, despite the chaos of persons shouting and banging on the door.
After Attorney Hughes asked Mr Thomas about whether he was aware that the Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo was the only person who should have been in the counting room, Trinidadian lawyer for the COI, Sophia Chote expressed concern that he (Mr Hughes) was not asking specific questions on areas that he believed that Ms Myers was implicated. “My friend is here to ask the witnesses questions pertaining to the role of his client and not to embark upon a roving mission about the Laws of Guyana, about matters which affect other persons who have come before this Commission and said they wish to exercise their right to silence,” she said. Ms Chote asked the Commission to direct Mr Hughes to ask questions that are relevant to his client.
Commission Chairman Retired Justice Stanley John asked Mr Hughes to focus on witnesses who had already appeared before the Inquiry and “incriminated your client in some way.”
Proceeding, Mr Thomas said Ms Myers “at no time” told him that Returning Officer Mingo was responsible for the security of the counting room at the Returning Office and that he should have taken instructions from him. But he admitted that Ms Myers had spoken to him late on March 5, 2020 about “clearing the building” but she never mentioned that was because business had closed for the day.
The then Divisional Commander said he disregarded Ms Myers’ request “because I mentioned to Ms Myers and my superior that there are election material that need to be preserved and secured so the issue there is security.” He stressed that he intended to “ensure” that they were properly secured.
At that juncture, Election Inquiry Commissi0ner Singh interjected and said “I am also of the view that we’re allowing you a lot of latitude” rather than addressing aspects that have implicated the then Deputy Chief Elections Officer notwithstanding she exercised her constitutional right to remain silent. “A lot of what you’re questioning is not implicatory of your client,” Mr Singh said.
Mr Hughes explained that the basis for his line of questioning was because Mr Thomas’ response seemed to implicate Ms Myers in a plot without the security of the material. “It is, with respect, a potential inference in relation to the conduct of Ms Myers and I believe that insofar it may adversely impact her conduct, it could be challenged,” Mr Hughes said.
After Justice Singh recommended to Mr Hughes that a specific question could be “are you in any way implying…” that Ms Myers asked you to clear the building was because she had an ulterior motive, Mr Thomas said he was “unable to answer that question.” COI Lawyer Chote contended that the question was unfair to the witness as he was being asked to draw an inference or imply as the Commission could do so based on evidence. “It is not for him to say but with all due respect, I have to ensure, I have a duty to you to ensure that the material presented to you is material and is reliable and that doesn’t include opinions or answers which may be informed by suspicions and that kind of thing,” she said.
The Chairman disallowed the question, although it was proposed by the Commission and already answered.
The Assistant Commissioner said Ms Myers could not have asked him to clear the building because she was not the Returning Officer.
At the end of Mr Hughes’ cross-examination, Ms Chote said that more than three years later he could not remember who was in charge of the bomb squad. He said he never told her directly that there was a bomb threat but he made several announcements in her vicinity. He said he was certain that the group that Ms Myers was responsible for did not respond to his request to clear the building.
He said the TSU is deployed by the Police Commissioner and is under the command of the Commander. Mr Thomas said “at no time” did Ms Myers complain to him about the security of the GECOM Chairman. He said at no time did the Returning Officer ask him to clear his office.