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Jamaica’s top cop quits

Bert Wilkinson | 7/17/2014, 10:15 a.m.

In the past month, Owen Ellington, Jamaica’s top cop, abruptly handed in his letter of retirement to authorities, years before his due date, fueling island-wide speculation that his unexpected departure was the result of pressure from Western nations, such as the United States, over allegations that the local force ran a death squad responsible for dozens of extrajudicial killings.

In the run-up to Ellington’s sudden departure, not many on the island of about 2.7 million people could say that they had anticipated his exit from the force under the circumstances that played out publicly. Insiders say that it had much to do with the May 2010 protracted gunfight involving the police and the military, with American intelligence help, to arrest and extradite Christopher “Dudus” Coke, at the time the island’s leading gangster, area don, known international drug trafficker and arms smuggler. A U.S. court has since jailed Coke for more than 20 years.

Ellington, 52, has said that he stepped aside to give investigators an “unjuandiced” chance to probe the alleged killings of criminal and other suspects by police and soldiers, not only in Coke’s Tivoli Gardens, West Kingston, stronghold but also in various parts of the country.

Howard Mitchell, Ellington’s attorney and spokesman, said publicly that he left amid international pressure from Western governments, upset by credible allegations that some suspects were shot indiscriminately by police and soldiers during the main operation to arrest Coke and during days of gun battles with Coke loyalists in Tivoli Gardens.

Similar allegations played out in the fellow Caribbean trade bloc nation of Guyana between 2002 and 2005. The visas of the police chief and national security minister were revoked by the U.S. State Department. That time the head of the police system might have been forced to quit.

Police homicide figures show that officers kill approximately 250 citizens annually, and even though there has been a decline this year, 70 such questionable fatalities were reported for the first half of 2014.

Despite what Ellington said in his departure statement, both of the island’s two daily newspapers and other media groups have pointed to pressure from the British and Americans as the reason he quit. And neither he nor the government of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has denied allegations of pressure from the West.

Apart from allegations about the 2010 operation in West Kingston, authorities are also being asked to investigate similar extrajudicial killings in the Clarendon Parish. National Security Minister Peter Bunting was expected to testify in parliament this week.

In the meantime, calls are growing for authorities to use the opportunity of the chief’s departure to reengineer the police force, starting with the appointment of a foreign commissioner, calling such an appointment a progressive move, rather than a retrograde step, to deal with a corrupt system with too many rogue officers.