Tight security, strong COVID-19 protocols as Klansman trial begins

WITH the trial of the 32 men and one woman alleged to be at the heart of the vicious, St Catherine-based Klansman gang set to begin in the Home Circuit Division of the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston this morning under heightened security, the Department of Correctional Service (DCS), which late last week reported an uptick in COVID-19 cases among prisoners, says it has pulled out all the stops for the protection of the accused.

The case — which involves the largest number of accused ever to be tried together for a single matter, in addition to 40 attorneys, 43 prosecution witnesses, investigators, court staff, members of the media and police personnel — will stretch across two courtrooms because of the number of people involved and restrictions associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

It is expected that the Crown, armed with a 25-count indictment, will this morning open the proceedings and lay out its case before Chief Justice Bryan Sykes who will be hearing the matter that is being tried under the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organizations) Act, commonly called the Anti-Gang Act.

Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of National Security Matthew Samuda, who has responsibility for the correctional services, speaking with the Observer over the weekend amidst reports of more cases of the virus among inmates said, “We are following the guidelines and the recommendations to ensure the safety of all…we are doing all to mitigate against COVID spread.

“As you can imagine, in a case with this many defendants they wouldn’t be necessarily housed in one place, but the general principle [of] isolation from the rest of the inmate population to ensure the least exposure is what would obtain. I won’t speak with much specificity as to this particular case because of the security concerns but generally, persons who go and come for court, regardless of where they are housed, are isolated from the rest of the inmate population for 14 days before they are allowed to re-enter the population.”

Samuda added: “This is consistent with World Health Organization, Centres for Disease Control and the Pan American Health Organization recommendations and our own Ministry of Health. So the general principle, regardless of this case or any other, is that people going to and from court are isolated — and we have had to restructure our operations since COVID came to Jamaica to facilitate space and such.”

According to Samuda, while he could not say if any, or all the 33 accused were vaccinated, all inmates had been given the opportunity to choose to be vaccinated.

“We follow the advice of the health professionals in their recommendations, and even though we are seeing an increase in cases now, we generally fared better than other jurisdictions with this approach,” said Samuda.

Last Friday the DCS reported an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among the inmate/ward population and staff members in its correctional institutions in recent weeks.

In a media release the DCS said 58 inmates/wards had tested positive for the virus while seven have been hospitalised. Additionally, it said 38 staff members have tested positive and are now in isolation.

It said to date, approximately 300 inmates from the adult correctional institutions and more than 300 staff members have been inoculated and that the Medical Services Unit continues to collaborate with the Public Health Department to conduct vaccination drives within the facilities.

Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, 206 inmates/wards and 228 staff members have recovered from the virus. The death count remains at five: two inmates and three officers from the first wave of the virus. Jamaica remains one of the countries within the jurisdiction with the least amount of cases in its correctional system.

In the meantime the police have advised that the intersection of King and Tower streets and the intersection of King and Barry streets in downtown Kingston will be closed today, between the hours of 8:00 am, and 5:00 pm, to facilitate the start of the trial in the Supreme Court.

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