A 26-year veteran in the area of inquest laws has opined that an independent body, not the police themselves, should be investigating any cases of death in state custody.
Dr. Leslie Thomas QC, of the Garden Court Chambers in London is here in Dominica and made the remarks at a press conference in light of the death of Joshua Etienne of Picard at the Portsmouth Police Station.
Thomas, who has Dominican roots, said although he has not been thoroughly briefed on the case, there must be transparency and independence in the investigation of matters of such nature.
“I understand when you are a small country with limited resource and also when deaths in custody are rare, it is very difficult to have a body full time on hand 24/7 to investigate these deaths,” he said.
He said this is the case with the Independent Police Complaints Commission in the United Kingdom, noting there need to be transparency in such deaths.
“So for instance you would hope that in a death in custody case, the first thing that is really important is the preservation of evidence,” Thomas said. “But one of the things that you want to do is to ensure that Officers from the same station were not involved in investigating themselves.”
He also noted that there “might even be a consideration of bringing in, maybe, outside officers from a different island to assist in the investigation to give it that injection of independence.”
He, however, admitted this may be met with “some resistance and difficulty,” since the police may argue that they have done nothing wrong.
Thomas is also in suggesting a temporary closure of the Portsmouth Police Station for the purpose of gathering evidence.
On the matter of the charges not being read in court to the five officers allegedly involved in the Etienne’s case, Thomas said in all his years of practice he has not seen anything like that in the UK.
“It might be unusual but unusual doesn’t mean it was wrong,” adding that he do not have sufficient knowledge of the matter to give a more in-depth analysis.
He pointed out that the death of anyone in custody of the law raises questions and the police should not be feel threatened “if these questions are asked of them.”
He also noted that the gathering of evidence early in the investigation is important.
“It is important that evidence is preserved very early on,” Thomas stated. “Once evidence is lost you can never get it back, it means that the search for the truth becomes even more difficult.
He noted that once this occur, the cloud of suspicion hanging over the heads of those alleged to have perpetrated the crime will never be cleared.
Thomas said an independent body or as near independent body will be able to seize “very early on” the evidence and to take statements, good forensics, make sure the pathology is not delayed or that there is a second pathology as a back up.
Thomas father is from Marigot and he has made his name in the UK representing the families of persons who have died in police custody or bring civil action against the police.
He is part of a panel in a dialogue on Thursday evening in Portsmouth called “Citizens’ Security and the Police.”