As the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the prison unrest continues, a murder accused on Monday testified that the Camp Street Prison unrest was aimed at gaining the attention of the media.
Thirty-seven-year-old Basil Morgan, a murder accused who has been on remand for the past five years, testified to the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that the unrest at the Prison was aimed at gaining the media’s attention after the Prison officials failed to address their concerns.
Morgan explained to the Commissioners that the other inmates would frequently request that they be given a speedy trial as they had spent years on remand. However, he alleged, “no one paid them any heed and they became frustrated” with the situation. This, he said, led to the planning of the riot to gain the attention of the media. “The night of March 2, 2016, that’s the Wednesday, after trying to gain the attention of the prison officials to ask if someone could please do something or say something…talk to persons in the media or judicial system to help persons out who have been in prison as long as me. But we would hear that they are only mandated to house you and to keep you safe, nothing more. Personally, I asked officers more than one time and that’s what they would tell me. This has been leading up long before…this is not a one-day something,” he stated.
He related that as a result of the “lackadaisical response” by the prison officers, the inmates decided to take the situation into their own hands.
“Persons’ frustration grew and they tried to gain the attention of the media so that their story can be heard and persons beyond the prison walls could know,” he related, adding that they tried to gain this attention “by lighting a fire in the external part of the building”.
Morgan said after the fire was lit, Police Officers were not in the building to render assistance or control the situation, but could be seen on the road looking on.
He went on to explain that when the media arrived, the prisoners began shouting their concerns; however, after the media left the area, the inmates continued igniting the fires.
“After the fire ‘reel’ out the fire that night, that was it. We just clean up and get some sleep. But before sleeping, persons went to the western side of the building, that would be the inner part of the building shouting to the officers, firemen and Police ‘we ain’t have no problem with the Police; we ain’t have no problem with the wardens…we just want our voice to be heard. And y’all already saying that y’all cannot do that. And if y’all cannot do that and we cannot get no media personnel to come in…then how else could we do it? We have no problem with the Police,” the prisoner alleged.
The murder accused further testified that the following day, March 3, prison officials did not make routine checks to verify whether or not the situation was “under control”.
“No one came to ask what it was about the night before…no one came,” he stated. However, Morgan revealed that about 07:30h, the prisoners were taken in groups of five to the tarmac and then the dining hall where they were searched for contraband. However, unlike some other prisoners, he was not taken back into Block A, where those on remand for or convicted of serious crimes were housed.
“Thank God I didn’t get to go back or I would be dead right now…because I would have been among the 17,” the relieved prisoner stated.
He related that chaos erupted soon after, adding that there was no resistance by the inmates when they were asked to come out.
He alleged that some survivors of the ordeal related that it was the tear gas that caused some of the prisoners to suffocate to death, adding that this was also stated on their death certificates.
“It is an enclosed building so instead of the tear smoke rising and going away, it only rise to the ceiling and come back down, so they were mostly panting for breath. There’s a small door at the back and all who survive went to that door. All who get caught at the front screaming fuh ‘please open the door’, they are all dead,” he claimed.
He also alleged that there were orders to lock the prisoners in while the fire was ongoing.
“While I was being searched, the order was given to the Police at Capital A…the order was shouted out but I didn’t see who it was that ordered it,” he claimed.