Police kill fleeing prisoner
-bystander hit in neck
By Andre Haynes
June 26, 2003
A prisoner, who escaped from a prison van while being transferred to the Camp Street jail, was yesterday fatally shot by police ranks who also wounded a bystander during their pursuit.
Dead is 20-year-old Michael Clarke, said to have been a resident of Sophia. He died at the Georgetown Public Hospital while undergoing emergency surgery after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds at close range. Troy Semple, 27, a Charlestown resident, is now nursing a gunshot wound to the back of his neck where he was hit during attempts by police to catch the prisoner. Semple is listed in stable condition in the hospital’s High Dependency Unit.
In a press statement issued late yesterday, police said Clarke had been a prisoner on remand for robbery under arms and had attempted to escape while under police escort to the Georgetown Prison. The statement only said that the police had pursued Clarke “and in the intervening period he was shot.”
According to eyewitnesses, events leading to the shooting unfolded with the arrival of the prison van outside the Georgetown Prison, at 1.05 pm and as Clarke and other remand prisoners were being transferred to the Camp Street Prison. Witnesses said the prisoners were being led out of the van when an unshackled Clarke escaped the grasp of a guard who was escorting him and made a dash south towards Durban Street. It is unclear why Clarke was not handcuffed at the time and the police have not said anything on this issue.
A party of six, comprising both police and prison officers, immediately began chasing him and discharged several rounds in his direction as he ran east into Durban Street. It was at this point that Semple, a teacher at the Central High School, was hit.
Semple was on his lunch break and was walking on the western Camp Street pavement, south of Durban Street. As he proceeded a little past the Intersection Hangout Bar at the junction, one man said, he was hit and cried out. Bystanders later flagged down a taxi and rushed the wounded man to the hospital.
Meanwhile, Clarke had made his way into a yard at Lot 17 Durban Street followed by the officers. Here, the prisoner hid himself behind two water tanks situated at the rear of a backyard storage bond.
An eyewitness, who was looking from a neighbouring building, told Stabroek News what he said happened next:
“...He jumped [the] fence and he was hiding behind the water tank. When they corner he, he put his hands up in the air like this [demonstrates]. They push him down and one of them put his foot on his chest and [they] shoot him.”
Eyewitnesses said the shooting was done by the policemen in the party, while prison guards did not act, but rather just walked away.
Another witness to the incident said Clarke was surrounded by the policemen, including one who was positioned on top of one of the nearly ten feet high water tanks, his gun trained on the prisoner. Clarke was seated on the ground, and according to the man, pleaded with the police not to shoot.
Afterwards, witnesses said, a squabble ensued between the police officers as one of the ranks chastised his companions over their actions.
These statements were later given by eyewitnesses to police investigators.
Clarke was dragged from his hiding place leaving a thick trail of blood and placed into a police vehicle before being taken to the hospital where almost lifeless he was rushed to the Emergency Unit.
A massive pool of blood was visible in the van where Clarke’s body had lain. He died in the hospital’s operating theatre as doctors tried to save his life.
The father of bystander Semple, who lives in Berbice, told this newspaper the news of his son’s injury came as a great shock. He said his son only remembered being hit and falling to the ground. A neighbour who lives in the area said Semple along with everyone was at risk during the shootout.
He recalled that bullets were flying in every direction and added the likelihood of someone being hit was great. “I had no idea that person was going to be him, he was in the right place at the wrong time.”
In the wake of the incident, police action came under heavy criticism as several witnesses at the scene expressed outrage at the manner in which they had responded. Eyewitnesses railed against the police use of deadly force, as well as the resulting injury to an innocent bystander and an unarmed prisoner, which they said could have been avoided.
“They could have apprehended him without shooting...” said one person, while another added, “they could’ve hold the man and they jump and start shooting at him.”
Sources told Stabroek News that Clarke was charged last month for robbery under arms at the Sparendaam Magistrate’s Court, where he was subsequently placed on $10,000 bail. He was unable to post the bail for his release and was awaiting trial. (Additional reporting by Iana Seales)