Mandela Avenue shooting inquest
Merai testifies about self-defence
May 31, 2002
Articles on the police
Police Superintendent Steve Merai testified on Wednesday that when in a shoot-out, members of the Anti Crime Task Force would shoot until the other person stops shooting and where death occurred he described this as self defence.
At the time, he was under cross-examination by attorney Basil Williams when the Coroner's Inquest into the deaths of John Bruce, Steve Grant and Antoine Houston continued.
Bruce, Grant and Houston were shot to death by members of the Anti-Crime Task Force, also known as the Target Special Squad at the junction of Mandela Avenue and the Industrial Estate Road last July.
According to reports from the police, the men who were travelling in a vehicle were killed during a confrontation after they opened fire at the lawmen. Merai was a member of the party from the Anti-Crime Task Force involved in that confrontation. Williams is appearing on behalf of Bruce and Houston.
Giving his account of the incident, Merai told the court that the confrontation began after the four persons in the car were observed to be acting suspiciously.
He told the court that as they were about to approach Mandela Avenue, he ordered the driver of the car to stop. The driver complied but as he did so, Merai said, the three men in the car began exiting the vehicle.
According to his testimony, the situation quickly escalated into an armed conflict when one of the men fired in his direction and was shot by late Police Superintendent Leon Fraser.
As the crossfire continued, the other two men were shot and the vehicle sped away from the scene. In the aftermath, he said, they checked the wounded men and found a number of weapons on them, including a Beretta machine gun with thirty live rounds.
They then escorted the wounded men to the Georgetown Public Hospital where they were pronounced dead on arrival.
Subsequent to his testimony, attorney Williams began his cross-examination of Merai, focusing on the method of operation and the purpose of the anti-crime task force.
Asked how many men have been killed by his squad since its creation in 1996, Merai said he was unable to respond `offhand' and indicated that he would have to refer to records.
"A large number?" Williams inquired.
Asked why the unit was set up, he said that it was primarily created to conduct anti-crime patrols around Georgetown and the country and to answer emergency calls.
"Is your training different from the training of the average policeman?"
"Originally your unit was set up as a paramilitary unit?"
"You are trained as a special demolition squad?"
"Isn't that why you were set up, to take no prisoners?"
"You are trained as an army personnel, you are trained to shoot to kill?"
"Only when your life is endangered. I would say if needs be, because we work by the standing orders."
"You are talking about the rules of engagement. Mr Abrahams (in reference to Target Special Squad member Eustace Abrahams) did not know about the rules of engagement. Tell us about the rules of engagement."
"We are talking about your unit."
"The ranks in the unit would fire if they are ordered to by a superior rank; if there are prisoners in custody and attempts are being made to rescue them; if they are under attack and serious injury is envisaged to persons and they cannot defend themselves by any other means, they may shoot."
"To kill," Williams remarked.
"I don't agree with you sir. You may shoot someone and neutralise them."
Concluding his list, Merai told the court that members of the unit could fire when a police station or police outpost was being attacked and when a person is committing a felony, such as house breaking, burglary and robbery under arms, and there is no other means to cause them to desist from the act.
"What are the other means that your unit could deploy instead of firing?"
"You can negotiate."
"You have not had the opportunity to use that."
"Like (Linden) London, and when they come out with their hands up, you blow them away."
Merai, noting that he had to give evidence in the London inquest, did not offer a response. He continued under cross-examination by Williams to detail the negotiation process.
"What do you do after firing takes place?"
"That is a shoot-out."
"What do you do in a shoot-out."
"You shoot until the other person stops shooting."
When asked whether there was any rule in his orders that says that there should be a first attempt to injure, wound, or maim before killing, Merai said that no such rule existed.
"Do you know about our courts of law."
"So if you arrest someone who has killed someone you would expect it to go through the process of our judicial system?"
"So you know that a jury could convict this person for murder?"
"And as a result, the judge can sentence him to die?"
"You agree, you call that a judicial execution?"
"Yes, by the judge."
"You know that. So if you or the police or the unit kills a guilty citizen or a citizen you feel has committed an offence, what do you call it?"
"But the court did not order it, then it would be called an extra-judicial killing.
"That is for the court to decide."
"It is either a judicial, non-judicial or extra-judicial. Since it is not sanctioned by a judge, its an extra-judicial killing."
"I prefer the word killing. It's a killing."
"It is not sanctioned by the police..." Williams continued.
"I don't agree with the word extra," Merai replied, "it's when the court has made that decision."
"You prefer to call it a Merai killing."
"It's a police killing," Merai concluded.
The inquest will continue on June 12 in Court Two when Merai will be subjected to further cross-examination.