Disorderly behaviour continued months after riot ended
Deadly Prison Riot CoI Report
Though the riots at the Camp Street Prison lasted for three days in March, the terror of disorderly behaviour reigned until May where prisoners continued to threaten the lives of prison officers.
This was highlighted in the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) report into the deadly prison riots which claimed the lives of 17 inmates. Commissioners pointed out that during the March 2-4 riots, inmates were using “long heavy logs to break down the door” of a section of the Prison made of wood, which had housed the condemned and other prisoners.
“During this entire time, the prisoners were demanding that President Granger come to speak with them in the Prison Yard,” the report
It was further pointed out that the Guyana Prison Service and Police Force attempted to control the situation but were unsuccessful in their attempts due to a “mass number of angry and violent inmates” who were threatening and advancing towards officers.
“Tear smoke was used by the Police to disperse the mob but same was picked up by the prisoners and thrown back to the riot unit. This
dazed the ranks and they began to retreat causing the defence to be weak,” the report pointed out.
However, many prison officers in their testimonies to the CoI which ended on May 9, had denied ever seeing tear smoke being used during the ordeal.
When Fire Chief Marlon Gentle was under cross-examination by attorney Glen Hanoman, he was questioned to disclose his knowledge of tear smoke canisters and whether they are “flammable or pyrotechnic”. Gentle had responded that, pyrotechnics were not his expertise. However, when he was later questioned by Commissioners, the Fire Chief had recalled incidents in the 1997 riots and onwards, where the canisters were used.
The CoI report has also highlighted that instructions were indeed, given for the riot unit to use shotguns. Several rounds were discharged, “causing prisoners to be subdued”. It was stated that this is what led to the end of the three-day standoff.
The CoI report continued: “The Police and Prison Officers then began taking control of the situation and started to lock the prisoners down back in the divisions and Holding Area. A physical check was made of all prisoners and the tally was found correct. During the incident a number of inmates were injured as well as officers and efforts were made to render medical assistance to them.”
It was after these events that Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan and Minister of State Joseph Harmon met with inmates at the Georgetown Prison Sports Club where a “gentleman’s agreement” was reached.
In the aftermath of the three-day riots, Commissioners observed that: “prisoner’s discipline” had become “out of control”.
“They literally took over the Prison Yard. A number of them were accused of walking with long sharpened instruments threatening officers, smoking marijuana openly and using their cell phones in officers’ presence,” an excerpt of the report revealed.
“Prison Officers were prevented from retrieving [mobile phones] as prisoners with sharpened instruments threatened them and retrieved the parcels. Many officers reported sick, making the prison vulnerable to major security breaches. An emergency Joint Services meeting was held by his Excellency, President Granger who directed that order must be maintained within the Georgetown Prison…normalcy was restored when a Joint Services Operation Restore Order was done to search the entire prison and transfer ringleaders on May 14, 2016.”
The Commission observed that “serious psycho-social trauma” can arise from the incidents surrounding the riots and have recommended grief counselling for staff, inmates and their families.
“From evidence from both prisoners and officers many were observed to be highly traumatised by the events of both March 3 & 4, 2016,” the CoI report noted.
When Chief Prison Officer Roddey Denhart testified on April 28, he disclosed that one prison officer was “chocked and robbed” in the compound of the Georgetown penitentiary. He had also testified that another inmate placed an improvised weapon, a spear, on the chest of another warden.