JSC report: police officer feared for safety

  • A protester wipes her eyes after being pepper-sprayed by police outside the House of Assembly (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    A protester wipes her eyes after being pepper-sprayed by police outside the House of Assembly (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The build-up to a confrontation at a 2016 demonstration against the new airport plan outside the House of Assembly was outlined in evidence to a parliamentary joint select committee set up to look at the background of the clash.

A police officer said he feared for his safety during the protest and afterwards.

Constable Dominique Simons gave written evidence about his time on the police front line from 7am on December 2 three years ago at the South Gate to Sessions House for a report released last Friday.

He told the committee: “The whole situation was unreal. I was fearful not only for my own safety, but the safety of the other police officers.”

Mr Simons said it was the first time in his police career where a situation had “demanded the deployment of Captor”.

He added: “Since this incident, I am constantly looking over my back in case people try to attack or kill me.”

Mr Simons said that a small crowd had gathered by 8.30am to block access for government staff.

He added that he saw an assault on Inspector Scott Devine at about 10am when a man in the crowd, Edmund Smith, hit the officer on the legs with a stick and was arrested.

He said: “Several of the protesters pointed at me and called me skinny, nerd and made comments about how they couldn’t believe I was a police officer because of my size.”

Mr Simons detailed the advance of the Police Support Unit on the crowd that had blocked the South Gate at 1pm.

He said protesters ignored orders to disperse, linked arms, and resisted efforts to move them.

Mr Simons added that his training suggested that Captor pepper spray “was now necessary in this situation”, as the crowd’s behaviour was “escalating and becoming more aggressive”.

A female protester who had held on to the gate fell on her back after an officer pulled her off.

Mr Simons said he used pepper spray on two separate men who had grabbed officers by their jackets as the confrontation grew worse.

Mr Simons added that he “reassessed the situation and put my Captor away” as aggression increased and police abandoned an attempt to force their way through the protesters.

He said: “Several members of the crowd identified me as one of the officers that deployed Captor and began pointing and shouting at me, threatening to kill me in various ways.

“They shouted that I was going to get shot, I was going to get beat up, I was going to be sprayed with Baygon and set on fire.”

Mr Simons added that another man told him he would “throw acid on me and have his sons beat me up”.

Mr Simons said he had turned in his Captor spray as evidence at Hamilton Police Station.

The mother of a female MP said she feared for her daughter’s safety after she saw her being assaulted.

Deborah Brown, the mother of One Bermuda Alliance MP Nandi Outerbridge gave a police statement on the events when she took her daughter in her work van to the House of Assembly.

Ms Brown said at first “things were still calm”, but protesters shouted: “Surrogate, go across the other side” when Ms Outerbridge left the van.

Ms Brown said she spoke to Jason Hayward, the head of the Bermuda Public Services Union, and a family member.

She added: “It was at this time I heard Nandi’s voice saying ‘Take your hands off me’.”

Ms Brown said she stood between the crowd and her daughter until police intervened.

She added: “I went home and felt hyped by what had happened.

“I never thought I would witness my daughter being assaulted, just for her trying to do her job and go to the House of Assembly.”

One protester told the committee that he struggled to breathe after he was hit in the face by pepper spray.

Dornielle Farrel said in a written statement: “I have no problem with a new airport but I am definitely not happy about the whole situation and the way it came about.”

He added that “riot police” approached the South Gate at about 1pm and started “pushing and pulling people away from the gate”.

Mr Farrel said he saw a female bus driver fall and went to help, but “another lady was squashed up against the wall, and she grabbed hold of me and asked me to get her out”.

He added: “At this point my hoodie fell forward and suddenly I saw two canisters, and I was sprayed straight in the face.”

Mr Farrel said he “immediately” started to retch and when he tried to cover his face, he was sprayed again.

He added that a police officer pulled him from the crowd as he fought for breath.

Mr Farrel said he had to throw away the clothes he was wearing “because the pepper spray didn’t come out”.

He added: “I do not feel the actions of the riot police were justified as we were not protesting violently at any point.”

Statements from police, protesters, MPs and members of the public were taken for the special report by the JSC.

An anonymous witness told the committee she could not “walk or drive by Parliament Street without feeling traumatised all over again”.

The statement of Constable Marina Jean-Pierre said she saw “a large crowd about 200 or more persons, shouting and ranting”.

She said she was in a state of fear as the crowd pushed back.

Ms Jean-Pierre added: “At this point I felt I was in harm’s way. We were outnumbered by far and our goal was unachievable.”

Twenty statements by police are included in the annexes of the report; most of them from officers.

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Published Jul 8, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 8, 2019 at 6:30 am)

JSC report: police officer feared for safety

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