March 11, 2013
Attorney Christina Galanos yesterday renewed calls for an independent investigation into the deaths of two men who died in police custody. Galanos was responding to claims by Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade that the coroner was independently investigating the deaths of Jamie Smith and Aaron Rolle. According to their death certificates, Smith, 35, died of asphyxia at the Central Detective Unit within hours of his arrest on February 8, and Rolle, 20, died from blunt force trauma at Southern Police Station on February 9, three days after his arrest.
Greenslade said the investigation into the deaths was headed by the coroner, who directed police in their investigations. However, Galanos, who represents the interests of the estates of both men, said this was not an ideal state of affairs. Galanos noted that police officers were still intimately involved in the investigation. She noted that an autonomous body should be responsible for probing any serious complaint against the police. Galanos said, "If Smith and Rolle had suffered serious injuries while in custody but had survived, who would have been the independent investigator?
It certainly couldn't be the coroner. So once again how can the police force investigate itself?" She said an independent system would restore public confidence in the process. Galanos pointed out that if a child were to die in his parent's care of asphyxia or blunt force trauma, the matter would be sent to the criminal courts -- not the coroner's court. She said, "The parent would be arrested, charged, arraigned and remanded into custody until he could persuade a Supreme Court judge that he should be freed on bail.
"That parent would not be given a paid vacation from his job and allowed to continue with his ordinary life." Galanos said the Office of the Attorney General had, in the past, stopped inquests into fatal police shootings and convened criminal proceedings. She invited the AG to review the files in respect of Smith and Rolle to determine if an inquest is necessary. Galanos said the double standard for investigations regarding civilians and police officers diminishes the public's faith in the system.
She asserted that in criminal trials, police officers have been known to misplace detention records, which track the movements of suspects while in custody. She said Smith's and Rolle's detention records were almost as important as the autopsy reports. She noted that the deaths of Owen Rolle and Tyrone Saunders, who both died in custody at the Central Detective Unit in 2010 and 2012 respectively, have still not been examined in the cCoroner's court.
Galanos agreed with Greenslade that there are good and bad police officers, but she said all officers should be held accountable for their actions. She said it was clear that Greenslade had missed the point by saying his hands were clean. She said no one was questioning Greenslade's integrity but rather the integrity of the process.
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