A commission of inquiry into the mid-July police killing of three Black opposition supporters in Guyana has begun, with Police Chief Leroy Brummel being forced to admit that the use of live rounds against unarmed citizens was uncalled for.

Testifying before a commission comprised of jurists from Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad, Brummel, 53, was adamant that he never ordered Police Commander Clifton Hicken or any of the riot unit on the ground in the bauxite mining community of Linden to use live rounds to disperse demonstrators railing against steep increases in electricity rates, saying he eventually was forced to move Hicken from the scene to avoid further confrontation.

The July 18 fatal shooting sparked nationwide condemnation of the Indo- and Hindu-led governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and its history of excesses against Black opposition supporters, be it hiring of private hit squads to execute suspected bandits or targeting favored ranks in the local police force to carry out clandestine functions.

The commission will have a long line of witnesses to cross-examine, including Hicken, some of the more than 20 people who were hit with live rounds while protesting on an interior river bridge, officers from the riot unit and regional administrative officials. The commission will also review CCTV and other footage of the shooting, among other chores.

Regional Chairman Sharma Solomon is expected to testify that Hicken had directly threatened to shoot Lindeners if they continued to protest and if they blocked the main bridge to the southern interior, where most of the country’s gold and diamond mines, as well as foreign and locally owned timber concessions, are located. Hicken is widely known to be the favored Black officer of government in the police system.

As the hearings progress, lawyers for the opposition have already indicated that they will subpoena telephone records from the U.S.-owned Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company to substantiate allegations that National Security Ministry Clement Rohee had bypassed the top cop and gave orders directly to Hicken on the ground less than an hour before the shootings.

Said a slightly agitated Brummel from the witness stand, “I don’t think it was justified to use lethal force,” noting that his orders were to verbally engage the leaders of the protest and try to persuade them not to block the crucial river bridge. “[Those were] my instructions all the time.” He described Hicken as “a short man with a hot temper, so I saw it best in the interest of the force to move him out of Linden and send in a bid person, a sober-headed person,” he said to laughter.

The fatal shootings sparked a monthlong lockdown of the town of 30,000, located 65 miles southwest of the capital city, Georgetown; resulted in a full blockade of the river bridge that stranded residents on both sides of the Demerara River; and crippled economic life in the mining and logging districts.