… Bartica, Lusignan massacres convict among 5 prisoners on the run
By Samuel Sukhnandan, Vahnu Manikchand and Ramona Luthi
Five prisoners are on the run following the Camp Street Prison break that occurred on Sunday around 16:45h. Among the five convicted prisoners are Mark Royden Durant called “Royden Williams” and “Smallie”, who has been sentenced to death for both the Lusignan and Bartica massacres.
During a press briefing on Sunday evening, Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels revealed that Williams and the other escaped inmates reportedly used the other prisoners at Camp Street to start several fires in the penitentiary, as a distraction to assist with the prison break.
Based on preliminary reports, Williams held a prison officer hostage and gunshots were heard at the prison. Samuels said based on that report, he ordered the officers to follow the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and to commence evacuating the prisoners to a safe location. There were 1018 prisoners at the prison at the time of the incident.
According to Samuels, during that process, some six officers were injured. One officer identified as Odinga Wickham, succumbed to his injuries while receiving treatment at the Georgetown Public Hospital. Two other officers are said to be critical, while the three others were stable up to press time.
Based on the magnitude of this major security issue, the Security Council was activated where members of the Joint Services met with Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, President David Granger and Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan to decide on how to respond to the dilemma.
Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud informed the media that given previous attempts by some of the prisoners to escape to neighbouring Suriname, the Guyana Police Force has since issued a wanted bulletin for the men and has alerted Suriname and other foreign authorities of the situation.
While it is still not clear what was the motive behind the fire and prison escape, Samuels said that he was informed that Durant wanted his freedom and used the opportunity to escape.
When questioned as to why there was a second prison riot at Camp Street in less than one year, Samuels deflected from answering the question and went on to state that some of the recommendations from the Commission of Inquiry (CoI), which was initiated after the first prison riot, have been implemented.
However, he admitted that there was slow progress in getting the capital for the projects. This may have served as one of the hindrances that led to the prison break and fire.
Samuels said the evacuated prisoners were taken to the Lusignan and Mazaruni Prisons. While the security officials have admitted that capacity is limited at these prisons, they said that the temporary relocation will suffice, at least for the next 24 to 72 hours. At present, the prisoners are currently at Lusignan in an empty compound. However, they were provided with water and given mobile toilet facilities.
Chaos at GPHC
Mass chaos and panic rippled through the city of Georgetown on Sunday afternoon after inmates of the Camp Street Prison started an inferno, as a distraction for what appears to be a planned jail break, gutting nearly the entire facility.
The events that unfolded resulted in the death of one prison officer, 30-year-old Odinga Wickham, while six others were injured. These officers sustained gunshot wounds, along with chop and stab wounds about their bodies. Several of Wickham’s internal organs were damaged as a result of the gunshot wounds to his chest and abdomen. Despite the efforts of doctors to repair the organs and the provision of several pints of blood to resuscitate him, the 30-year-old man reportedly bled to death on the operation table.
Among the other injured men was a senior prison officer, who was the officer-in-charge on the ground. He has been identified as Ewart Trim and is nursing severe chop wounds to his skull. After being treated and stabilised at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), he was then transported to a private city hospital for a CT scan to be conducted.
Additionally, three prisoners had to be hospitalised for non-life threatening injuries, while five of them managed to escape during the chaos. Two of the prisoners were shot while attempting to escape; they were admitted at the Hospital in stable condition.
So far, authorities have identified among the five escapees: Durant and Uree Varswyck, called Malcolm Gordon, who was committed to stand trial on two counts of robbery/murder, one of which is the 2014 Sterling robbery in which a security guard was shot dead.
Sunday’s incident commenced some time around 14:30h when the inmates started the fire. This served as a distraction as the inmates made their way into the administrative building in the compound, ambushing the officers there.
Guyana Times understands that the inmates held the female staffers in the admin building, but subsequently released them, saying “we nah gon do y’all nothing”. One prison officer had said that the inmates were being held in rooms under the arms section and so they made their way into the arms room by removing the boards of the flooring/ceiling.
By this time, sheer panic had ensued within the prison compound between inmates and prison officers.
Guyana Times witnessed at least three quarters of all the wooden buildings which make up the Camp Street Prison being engulfed in flames, even as firefighters attacked the blaze in their numbers.
The inferno continued to intensify until around 20:30h when firefighters managed to contain the flames.
Based on information received, the prisoners attacked prison officers using firearms, self-made weapons and their fists.
The fire began in the south-eastern side of the Prison, and as the smoke spread throughout the building, prisoners were heard shouting for help, as the building was placed on lockdown to prevent more criminals from escaping.
Shortly after, the angry prisoners were heard rattling the grill and hitting the zinc fence that surrounds the prison.
However, pandemonium broke out when the prisoners in the smoke-consumed building began hurling large stones in numbers through the vents in the upper floor, onto the hundreds of civilians and Police Officers who had surrounded the location.
As Police sought to set up barricades around the apparent “war zone” to protect civilians, a few disobedient spectators received minor injuries from the stones thrown in their direction.
Moreover, spectators were seen running as gunshots were being fired at them randomly, during an apparent shootout with prisoners in the building and the Police outside.
Officers from the Army were seen crouching behind objects with large rifles as they avoided and retaliated towards the shots fired at them from the criminals, who were attacking while being in the almost completely burnt building.
In the crowd, this publication overheard Police saying that attempts to remove the prisoners proved futile, because “they were resisting and attacking [officers]”.
Even more unfortunate was when the Police Sports Club opposite the Prison on Camp Street caught alight due to the intensity of the flames coming from the burning penitentiary. While the building had not been completely destroyed, only pillars and the walls were left standing.
In addition, another home which was located opposite the Prison on Durban Street was also significantly scorched. The family who lived there managed to escape unharmed.
Meanwhile, at the Hospital, tension mounted as relatives of the injured officers rushed to the medical institution. There were several outbursts between the anxious family members and the Hospital’s security personnel.
Anticipating an influx of injured persons, additional security, lab technicians, pharmacists and other needed hospital staffers were called out to be on standby. In addition, an emergency treatment centre was set up at the Hospital’s car park in anticipation of many injured arriving.
During a briefing with media operatives, acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Brigadier George Lewis, assured that everything was under control and that the Hospital was not overwhelmed.
Throughout the night, prison officers gathered at the institution to ensure that their injured colleagues were ok. Some of them collapsed in tears when news broke of Wickham’s death.
The visibly angry crowd began venting about the situation that unfolded earlier and they made comparisons to last year’s prison riot at the same Camp Street penitentiary, which resulted in the deaths of 17 inmates and several others, including prison staffers.
One officer was heard saying, “(The authorities) put the prisoners’ right over us and that shouldn’t have happened… Them men threatened we that them gon retaliate from what happened last year and we file a complaint, but nobody did anything for our security.”
On the other hand, in the midst of chaos in the city, there were reports of a shootout between escaped prisoners and Police in the vicinity of Buxton, East Coast Demerara.
However, authorities later confirmed that the situation was not so. It was explained that during a standard roadblock procedure, set up in light of the situation in Georgetown, ranks observed a vehicle turning around some distance before the road block. The Police subsequently give chase and shot at the vehicle, resulting in the driver losing control and ending up in a ditch at Buxton.
“Happens that they are from Buxton and it was an unlicensed driver that saw the road block and decided to run from it… it was not connected to anything (relating to the Prison incident),” Police Commissioner Persaud told a late-night press conference on Sunday.
However, that Division was not spared from drama. Authorities had transported prisoners to the Lusignan, ECD, jailhouse on Sunday evening, but the inmates refused to enter the facility. Guyana Times was told that this prompted the officers to fire warning shots into the air to contain the ruckus caused by the convicts.