In a day that saw the absence of cross-examination of witnesses, the Commission of Inquiry into the events surrounding the Camp Street prison riots, on Friday heard that urine and faeces were thrown at officers on a regular basis.
This was revealed by Udistair Holigan and Patrick Crawford as they told Commissioners of continued threats prison wardens faced.
Holigan, a Task Force Commander attached to Timehri was first to take the stand. He recalled that he had heard officers instructing inmates to proceed through the hole which they had created at Capital B.
The witness, who once was attached to the Camp Street Prison, recounted that the entire ordeal was “confusing” and noted that, “the place was filled with smoke”. He further related that the scenes he witnessed left him “traumatised” especially since he could have heard the prolonged screams of inmates as he and fellow officers employed efforts to open the locked door.
“I could recall the inmates screaming – screaming as if they was like lying there in the fire. Even though I tried to assist in getting the doors opened, inmates sent threats at me as if I was the fault that they lit the fire and got burnt,” Holigan recounted.
He also recalled the horror of being the recipient of human filth.
“They even throw urine and faeces at me and at that point, I couldn’t even come to grips that it had actually happened,” the officer noted. Holigan further observed that the situation went from a controlled environment to an uncontrollable environment. He told Commissioners that often times when he sits in his quiet moments, he could still hear the screams of inmates, the expletives hurled and threats they issued to responding officers.
With his eight years of experience, Holigan testified of his fear that he would not be able to deal with such a situation if it ever were to resurface.
“It’s kind of hard to cope with what went on that day and I wondering if something like this should happen, how would I be able to cope with it because you’re in fear that if this thing goes to this level again, how can you assist somebody, how can you preserve a life that is already lost?” questioned the responding prison officer in a sombre tone.
Under examination by the Commission’s Counsel, Excellence Dazzle, Holigan confirmed the account of other witnesses that indeed some prisoners did assist in evacuating their fellow inmates. Holigan also stressed that at this point he was not afraid. However, under questioning by Commission Chairman, Retired Justice James Patterson, the witness admitted that he became fearful in the days afterwards.
“I was afraid after the incident got contained and the inmates throwing their threats that they would take my life, take my spouse life, they know where I live… and they will burn down my house,” Holigan stressed.
Later on, the CoI heard that urine is often found stored in bottles, sometimes mixed with pepper or other liquids when searches are carried out in prison cells.
Duty Officer at the prison Patrick Crawford told Commissioners that since the riots, the vicious threats have continued. Crawford confirmed that indeed human waste was thrown during the riots, and all officers had were their shields to protect them.
Crawford further stated that as he rushed to scene, he was in civilian clothing and in attempt to rescue inmates, the bottom of his footwear started to melt which caused him to retreat. The officer further related that he attempted to assist in opening the side door but observed that this proved futile.
In recounting what he heard at that point, he revealed the pleas of one trapped inmate: “Mr Crawford, if you get we out, God gan bless yo.”
He also told Commissioners than when “ring leaders” of gangs are extracted from a block, they are not returned to the same division and in March, the intention was in fact to extract the ring leaders. This extraction involved the removal of prisoner with the given name of “Allicock” and the now infamous, Collis Collinson, whose removal created an uproar.
Commissioner Merle Mendonca opined that Crawford’s Mock Prison Riot training in West Virgina in the United States and other overseas training measures may not always be suitable to the local context.
Justice Patterson thanked the witness for his courage in performing his duties in battling the trials encountered on a daily basis.
Just before the session closed, Crawford was asked to tell the CoI just how much sleep he had throughout the ordeal.
“For the first three days, I had 15-20 minutes per day. I never saw my family until the fifth or the sixth day,” he stated.
The hearings are slated to resume on Monday, April 25.