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Police ‘ordered to use pepper spray’

Demonstrators and police, pictured at the protest outside the House of Assembly on December 2, 2016 (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Police were told to pepper-spray protesters at a December 2, 2016 airport demonstration outside the House of Assembly, a special report into the disturbance revealed yesterday.

A parliamentary joint select committee found that officers were apparently ordered to: “Captor now, all of them, all of them”.

The news came after an investigation by the Police Complaints Authority, released the following year, said the spray had been used by officers “only when they properly believed that it was necessary” and that no order was given to use the pepper spray, called Captor.

The PCA found that the officers were guided by “use of force policy”. But the findings of the JSC, headed by Progressive Labour Party backbencher Kim Swan, “uncovered that an order was given to officers to deploy Captor spray”.

The report, tabled in the House by Mr Swan, said the JSC had “astonishingly” discovered the order during a review of video footage taken from an officer’s body camera.

The report said the PCA finding was “untrue”, and that an officer could be heard on the tape to say: “Get out of the way or you will be sprayed.”

But the officer was heard to tell colleagues: “If you’re going to use Captor, Captor one at a time.”

Another officer later gave the order: “No more Captor spray.”

The report added: “The findings of the Police Complaints Authority must be nullified, as it is based on a totally erroneous premise.

“The committee’s discovery is conclusive that the use of Captor was the result of a clear directive to officers at the southern gate to the House of Assembly.”

Pepper spray was used against protesters in an effort to clear the gates — even though Randy Horton, the Speaker of the House at the time, had already decided that the House of Assembly would not sit at 1pm.

Mr Horton’s “indecisive” actions that morning came under fire in the report. The Speaker at first said that the House would not sit that day if MPs were not present by 10am.

But only Mr Horton and One Bermuda Alliance MP Sylvan Richards were inside Sessions House by the deadline because other legislators had been kept out by protesters.

Mr Horton changed his mind later that morning, which the report said put senior police officers “under pressure, to react in haste”.

The report said the former One Bermuda Alliance Government “must accept some responsibility”, for influencing Mr Horton to change his mind from having the airport redevelopment legislation debated at 1pm “thereby contributing to the climate of confusion”.

Members of the Progressive Labour Party, then in Opposition, were present among the demonstrators, and the report said that “would have been seen as a validation of the protests”.

The report highlighted “shortcomings” by both political parties, and said there should be a comprehensive code of conduct to govern the behaviour of MPs.

The clash, Bermuda’s worst civil unrest in decades, was among 26 protests held from 2012 to 2016.

The JSC, which started its work in January last year, pledged to operate with “fairness, transparency and sensitivity”, but ended up holding its sessions behind closed doors.

It was revealed in February that an undisclosed settlement — said to be about $225,000 — had been agreed with complainants who had considered legal action against the PCA.

The JSC also recommended that police should be trained in “de-escalation versus escalation techniques”.

A police spokesperson said: “Bermuda Police Service is currently reviewing the 146-page report of the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee regarding the December 2, 2016 incident outside the House of Assembly.”