Retired police commissioner and twice STAR Person of the Year Vernon Francois certainly isn’t crying over spilled milk or, for that matter, over what the prime minister spilled during a televised address on the evening of 8 March this year—including that “willful blindness existed in respect of the commissioner of police and particular members of his management team” suspected of criminality. The conclusion, said the prime minister, formed part of the “damning” IMPACS Report submitted to him early in 2015 by police personnel from Jamaica following their locally initiated investigation into U.S. State Department allegations of “gross violations of human rights”—and the shooting deaths by an ad-hoc police task force of “twelve citizens deemed to be criminals” when Francois was commissioner.
During a meeting last month with police officers in locations north and south of the island the prime minister revealed Vernon Francois had voluntarily retired early, effective 9 September—911!— following two unanswered Public Service Commission invitations to “resign in the public interest.” Earlier PSC chairman Wilbert King had told the press: “We wrote to him letting him know we had certain information given to us with respect to his standing . . . We did not hear from him, he did not respond, but then some time after we got word he was looking at pursuing another form of exit.”
Prime Minister Kenny Anthony: He predicted the fall-out from IMPACS but now he seems at a loss how to end what he started back in 2011!
By reliable account, as a result of negotiations with a government team led by the deputy prime minister Philip J. Pierre, Francois was made an offer he could not refuse.
On Wednesday evening several of his former officers joined the once popular Francois and his family at a private celebration at Bay Gardens Hotel when he thanked all present for their demonstrated loyalty during his tenure as commissioner. He assured them there was no reason to shed tears over his departure; he was doing just fine.
More than can be said about Errol Alexander who has been acting as police commissioner since March this year when the government announced Francois had gone on leave. By the way, Alexander was not among those celebrating with Francois on Wednesday evening. Meanwhile, there are the government’s published invitations to applicants for the position of police commissioner.
As if all of that were not sufficient distraction from his regular duties, the acting commissioner recently received word that one of his officers had placed before the PSC a letter that clearly suggested the acting commissioner had leaked to the media details of what was supposed to be a private conversation centered on threats on the complainant’s life by fellow officers investigated in connection with the so-called “gross violation of human rights.”
The complainant’s letter, addressed to the chairperson of the Public Service Commission, reads in part: “It is out of concern for my safety and the safety of other officers within the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force that I hereby seek the urgent intervention of your office.”
The letter goes on to reveal that in mid-October this year the complaining officer, at the behest of Errol Alexander, had attended a meeting with an acting ASP and Special Branch personnel in the acting commissioner’s office. According to the writer: “Commissioner Alexander began by indicating to me that I had not committed any crime, that he needed to speak to me because members of the task force associated with Operation Restore Confidence have been making allegations about [name withheld] and myself. He further went on to list some of the accusations he claims were made by members of the task force: I have been conducting surveillance on the task force and reporting on their activities, both on duty and off, to the Minister of National Security and the Prime Minister.”
Additionally, that the officer had ratted on the task force and their plan to overthrow the government; that they planned to assassinate the Minister of National Security.
The officer claimed in his letter to the PSC that “Commissioner Alexander clearly explained that the backs of the members of the task force are against the wall, with things hanging over their heads and that with these allegations come dangers that are real, and I should take them seriously. Commissioner Alexander made it clear throughout the meeting that if I am the one reporting to the Minister of National Security and the Prime Minister on the activities of the task force then he cannot guarantee my safety.”
To his great surprise, the officer wrote, “On Sunday 18 October I obtained and read a copy of the STAR with the front-page headline—‘IMPACS . . . Police Moles Targeted!’ I was for a moment suspended in disbelief at the Acting Commissioner’s apparent failure to ensure the details of our meeting remained among the four of us. I have been showered with calls from many expressing concern for my security on the basis that they were convinced I am one of the moles targeted . . . I am very disappointed with Acting Commissioner Errol Alexander who structured the meeting with its additional attendants. I do not level accusations at any of the additional attendants at the meeting. However I must express my observation that the structure and set-up of the meeting lent to the facilitation of such mischievous acts, whether willful or negligent.
“I am concerned that the Acting Commissioner’s apparent warning message to me on behalf of members of the task force, who are notably under his command and control, has been made available to them through the media’s exposure of the details of the meeting. They are now in a position to know the Acting Commissioner has declared to me that he cannot protect me and my associates from them.”
Actually, the leaked conversation to the media contained the following chilling revelation by acting commissioner Errol Alexander:
“You have to be careful. You have to understand, if these allegations are true, what problems we are going to encounter within the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force because, believe me, your duties are not to gather intelligence.
“We have Intercept, CID, Special Branch. These things are not your responsibilities. But again there is credible information, and this information I am bringing to you. So give me your take. I am sure you must’ve heard it already on the ground. The thing is, I cannot guarantee your safety at all if such is the case. So if such is the case you have to discontinue, because these are strong allegations against you, as recent as when we had the meeting with them [members of the fingered task force] last week Wednesday. Ms Pelius is there to support me, as to what I am saying . . . I ask you to discontinue because that thing might end up being worse than you think . . .”
By reliable information, Errol Alexander suspects he was set up. Moreover, he has adamantly denied being the leak. He believes someone “was wired” throughout the cited private conversation. Said my source, “Alexander believes the planners of his Francois-type demise calculatedly recorded the well-intentioned conversation, then passed it on to certain individuals in the media and elsewhere.”
“Would this have anything to do with IMPACS?” I asked. My source replied: “Almost everything that happens in the force these days is connected, one way or another, with that investigation that in itself never should’ve taken place.”
In his televised 8 March 2015 address to the nation, referencing IMPACS, the prime minister said: “The wounds arising out of this investigation will be deep. For nearly five years our police officers have been the subject of intense scrutiny locally, regionally and internationally. Our police officers are human beings and they will feel deeply hurt and distressed by the findings of this investigation.”
A short time earlier, on the same subject, he had said: “I have to admit the conduct of this exercise has not been easy for the members of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. It has pitted officer against officer, led to finger-pointing, accusations and counter accusations.”
No prophet before him had ever been so bang on target!
Meanwhile, I have been further informed the acting commissioner was recently directed to provide the protection and safety he allegedly claimed he could not guarantee. As I write, Errol Alexander is off island and I am not, at this time, able to confirm whether he has applied for the advertised position of police commissioner.
In any event, it seems unlikely he would be the most likely choice to fill Vernon Francois’ no longer shiny boots!