Four police officers were arraigned yesterday for the death of 20-year-old Derrick Uh- the Cristo Rey Village resident who died a tragic death after being locked up inside a police prison van for almost fourteen hours. The officers who were criminally charged are inspector Isaias Sanchez, Sergeant Rosario Romero, PC Alrick Borland and PC Errol Peralta. They were charged for the crime of manslaughter by negligence and were given bail of ten thousand dollars each plus two sureties of five thousand dollars. They are to reappear in court on September 13 for disclosure. Uh was arrested while at the San Joaquin Fiesta early on Sunday, August 14. Since his death, three of the officers were suspended except for Inspector Sanchez. Police Commissioner Chester Williams explained that it is the Security Services Commission that can suspend the inspector. But, at this time there is no constituted commission.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “Yesterday we formally arrested and charged four of our members, that’s Inspector Isaiah Sanchez, Sgt. Romero, P.C. Peralta and P.C. Borland. Those officers were charged with manslaughter by negligence and since then you know that three of those officers were on suspension pending the outcome of the investigation. The suspension will now be upgraded to interdiction and so they go to interdiction with half pay. As it relates to Mr. Sanchez who falls under the Security Services Commission, I only have the power, by law, to put him on five days administrative leave and then it is the Services Commission that is going to have to suspend him from duty and so at this time there is no constituted commission. I am hoping that one is going to be constituted very shortly and then once that is done, we can go through the process of having him on suspension the right way. He would not be on the job. He would have to be off the job but we cannot call it after the five days period is up. It cannot be a suspension because I do not have the authority by law and if I were to suspend him longer than five days, I would be acting ultra vires and I open myself to being sued. I’m not going to run a foul of the law. I’m going to follow the legal process.”
According to Williams, an audit was launched today and is expected to be completed by September 1. Williams explained further that while only four officers were criminally charged, others are expected to the dealt with internally including Sergeant Martinez who was the passenger in the van when Uh was being taken to the Corozal Police Station.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “From what the investigation reveals that he had nothing to do with it. I would have a different view. I’m not going to share my view but I will have a different view and I will only say this much, that as the senior person in the vehicle that went to the station, he should have ensured that the proper process was followed when the vehicle was handed over at the station and so I would want to think that internally, he would have something to answer. The investigation also shows that there were a number of administrative breaches by some other officers within the Corozal police formation and so those officers will be dealt with by means of our internal disciplinary process. This morning I have directed the RPLAC office branch for Research, Planning, Legal Affairs and Compliance Branch to go in and do an audit at the Corozal Police Station in respect to the incident to ascertain exactly what systematic failures there were that led to this incident and then those persons that were found to have been culpable of those systematic failures, then they too will be dealt with internally. At this time, there’s nothing to indicate that the O.C. had knowledge of whatever. Remember that the O.C. will not be aware of every person that is detained at the time they are detained. Yes in the morning when the O.C. comes to work he gets the prisoner list so he knows who is in custody. So at this time I cannot say that there is anything on the O.C. but I expect that the internal audit that will be done on our clock will reveal if in fact the O.C. had some culpability.”
Williams explained under which circumstances an officer can be dismissed.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police: “Under the Police Act is that we constitute a tribunal where an adjudicator is appointed by the Commissioner to hear the internal matters. We have two types of disciplinary infractions. We have minor and great or severe, major. So we have minor and major disciplinary infractions. If a person is charged with more than two minor infractions and is convicted the tribunal can order dismissal, or can recommend dismissal. If the person is charged with one major infraction, that is sufficient, if convicted, for a dismissal. Now the adjudicator can only recommend dismissal. It is a matter for the Commissioner then to review the notes, the circumstances and decide if in fact the Commissioner is in agreement with the dismissal and if that is the case then the Commissioner can go ahead and dismiss. Now there have been instances where he tribunal have not or did not recommend dismissal but from the view of the Commissioner, which is me, I would look at the notes of evidence, look at the severity of the offence, look at the amount of offences and despite the fact that the adjudicator does not order dismissal, I would exercise my power under the Police Act to up the punishment and still dismiss. So the law does give the Commissioner some powers to be able to up or decrease a punishment awarded by the tribunal.”