KINGSTON, Jamaica — Fifty-two years to the day Jamaica gained independence from Britain, the country saw one of the darkest days in its free history.
Mario Deane, a 31-year-old construction worker, succumbed to injuries from a horrific beating on August 3, 2014 while in the custody of police at the Barnett Street lock-up in Montego Bay, an idyllic resort city on the island’s north coast.
How he sustained those injuries and who exactly were involved remains the subject of public outcry. The official police report says officers were alerted to a brawl in the lock-up area and found Dean injured. However, earlier reports from the family say police had told them that their relative sustained injuries when he fell from his bed.
History of poor treatment of state detainees: It is hardly uncommon that the public has largely rejected the police’s version of events. His death is just the latest of several questionable inmate deaths in recent years in which police were suspected.
Last October, another inmate Kamoza Clarke died four months after sustaining horrific injuries from a beating while in custody at the Falmouth lockup just outside of Montego Bay. Five police officers were charged with Clarke’s death and are due to return to court in September.
The treatment of prisoners has been a thorny issue, with attorneys, doctors, even judges calling attention for it to be addressed. The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper quoted a statement by the Jamaica Bar Association which says detainees and prisoners are beaten in custody, crammed into overcrowded and unhygienic facilities. The association also expressed alarmed that it took the death of a man to get the government to address an issue they have long been calling its attention to.
This time, the government has finally spoken up. Jamaica’s Minister of National Security Peter Bunting has ordered a review all procedures and arrangements governing detentions to minimize the likelihood of a recurrence. Three police officers have been interdicted and another three suspended with immediate effect in connection with the case.
Charges laid: Police have charged two other inmates with Deane’s killing, a move the family and human rights groups feel is a cover up for possible police involvement in the beating. One of those inmates was himself beaten under questionable circumstances while in custody. Deane was being held for possessing a small quantity of marijuana, a minor offence that the Jamaican government is now moving to decriminalize. Under regular procedures he should have bonded out of lockup but, according to media reports, his beating came after a police officer delayed processing his bail because Dean, allegedly, made a comment that he did not like the police system in Jamaica.
Those charged include Adrian Morgan, whose family had reported him missing more than a month earlier while he languished in police custody less than two hours away from his home. The other man is Marvin Orr.
The cry for justice is constant, fuelled ever so often by excessive actions from a police force which still operates within the confines of antiquated laws designed to keep the masses in their place, and a justice system that barely hobbles along. It can take up to three years for a case to make it through the Jamaican court system. Some cases last even longer.
Road to justice: As Deane’s family gear up for the long road to justice, Jamaican media reported that two well-known human rights lawyers from the United States, Jasmine Rand and Benjamin Crump have joined the legal team led by local attorney Michael Lorne.
The family has also secured the services of American pathologist Dr. Michael Baden to perform an independent autopsy scheduled for September 2. Dr. Baden conducted the autopsy on Michael Brown, the 18-year-old man shot dead by police on August 9 in the US town of Ferguson, Missouri.
Residents there protested for more than two weeks, demanding action from the authorities and determined not to let his senseless death be in vain. In Jamaica, the public may have shifted its focus to bus fare increases, IMF tests, and Jamaica’s ever climbing cost of living. Deane’s relatives, however, are determined not to let Deane’s death be a nine-day wonder.
Update, October 4, 2014: In addition to prisoners charged with Mario Deane’s murder, three police officers have been charged in connection with attempts to cover up the crime