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The Michael Gayle Story

November 11, 2005



Michael Gayle was beaten and kicked until his stomach burst on Saturday August 21, 1999 by a group of soldiers and police at a barricade on Wint Road in Kingston. When he was unconscious the soldiers threw water on him to revive him, then beat him some more. His mother Jennie Cameron, who lives nearby, came rushing to the barricade and begged and pleaded with the soldiers and police to stop the beating and let her look after her son. Finally the Police threw him in a car and took him to a police station where he was charged with assaulting a policeman and resisting arrest. Miss Jennie followed the car to the police station and continued to beg and plead for her son. It was only after he began vomiting blood (Miss Jennie was made to clean it up) that Michael Gayle was finally taken to Kingston Public hospital. There he was kept overnight for observation and discharged the next day, in the most dreadful agony, with a prescription for pain killers and an appointment for Monday morning to the Psychiatric clinic.

Michael Gayle suffered terribly through the remainder of that day. Miss Jennie, unable to fill the prescription for painkillers, nursed her son as best she could. Michael couldn't keep down even water and moaned with pain. The next morning, Michael's sister Ingrid Hamm took him in a taxi back to KPH where they sent them to the clinic. Michael couldn't walk he was in so much pain and yet they made him wait for over two hours slumped on a bench in the clinic, without receiving any care, without seeing any doctor. It was only when he vomited faeculent material and slumped off the bench on to the floor that he was rushed to Casualty, where he died moments later. Miss Jennie wasn't even with him, as she was trying to get money to buy painkillers.


On Tuesday, August 24, 1999, Miss Jennie and the residents of the area organized a demonstration to protest the horrific beating and death of Michael. They were demanding a proper investigation of what happened and asking for an independent observer to oversee Michael's Post Mortem. A director of the fledgling organization Jamaicans For justice, seeing the demonstration, stopped and enquired what was happening. He went in search of Miss Jennie and asked her to come to the JFJ meeting to see if they could assist.

At that meeting the account of what had occurred was so horrific that all the JFJ members agreed to do all they could do to ensure justice would come for Michael Gayle. And so began the journey which is still incomplete.

Unable to find a pathologist in Jamaica willing to be an observer at the Post Mortem, Jamaicans For justice invited Dr. K Ramalu, the Government Pathologist in Barbados to observe. He came to Jamaica and was registered with the Medical Council. On the morning of the Post Mortem he was refused permission to observe but was told he could do the Post Mortem himself. This he did after insisting that the Police Photographer be present. Miss Jennie, her son Edward Hamm (who had to identify his brother's body prior to the Post Mortem) and various supporters sat outside the morgue from 8.00 am until 3.00 pm when the autopsy was finally concluded. In the heat, with no shade, and nowhere to sit down, except on tree roots or stones, Miss Jennie waited patiently, her dignity and pride sustained by her determination to get answers in the death of her son. The autopsy revealed that Michael had died from `Peritonitis, secondary to a ruptured stomach'. He had been beaten and kicked so severely that his stomach had burst and caused infection in his abdomen. On the stand at the Coroner's Inquest that would follow later, Dr. Ramalu testified that Michael could have survived his injuries if he had been given proper medical treatment.


Pictures taken at Michael's funeral reveal a family devastated by their loss, led by a woman whose dignity, bearing and determination to see justice done for her boy was unwavering. This courage saw Miss Jennie through even the night of September 21, 1999 when soldiers appeared at her gate, pointed guns at her and asked for her other son. The soldiers treated the family with contempt and disrespect but Jennie steadfastly refused to let them intimidate her and eventually they left.

Miss Jennie's courage was to be severely tested during the course of the Coroner's Inquest that ran for almost three weeks in December 1999. Even though she was represented by a strong team of lawyers working pro bono headed by Mr. Hugh Small and including Norman Davis, Katherine Phipps, Caroline Shurland and Sherry Ann McGregor, Miss Jennie came to court every day. There she had to sit, day after day, and listen to accounts of the beating of Michael given by civilian witnesses and soldiers and police. The soldiers all accused the police of doing the beating and the police accused the soldiers. She had to endure the spectacle of the Coroner having to subpoena the Chief of Staff of the Army in order to get access to the Army's investigation, and even then he only handed over statements, not outcomes or conclusions. She had to see an array of Government lawyers, including some from the Attorney General's department, some from the army and some from the police, attempt to defend the indefensible.

It seemed that her perseverance and courage might have paid off when the jury, three days before Christmas 1999, returned a charge of unlawful killing against `all the Security Force Personnel at the barricade on the night of the beating of Michael Gayle'. The jury said they should all be charged with `Manslaughter'. Unfortunately Miss Jennie's ordeal was far from over.


On March 15, 2000, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Kent Pantry ruled that he did not have enough evidence to charge anyone for Michael's death and asked for further investigations to be done. The head of the Bureau of Special Investigations, DCP Owen Clunie wrote suggesting that those representing Mr. Gayle and his family should help get the further evidence. In response JFJ suggested he talk to the soldiers and police who had done the beating as the best source of his information. Eventually the BSI wrote to the DPP stating that they had uncovered no new evidence and suggesting that the file be closed.

It seemed that the case was finished and there was nothing more that could be done except perhaps a claim for compensation for Michael's death but Miss Jennie refused to give up. She has said more than once that what she wants is to have someone held responsible for the action the night that Michael was beaten. She would want someone to be charged for his death, such as the person in charge of the JDF battalion/Police that sad night. Miss Jennie is also clear that the hospital must be held accountable for its role in Michael's death. She feels there was also negligence on their part and the situation must not be allowed to recur. Miss Jennie is very clear that Prime Minister Patterson, Minister K.D. Knight and the Government, owe the family a public apology and she is emphatic that no-one has ever said sorry, written a letter to the family or made a public statement apologizing. She still says, "I am sad and disappointed ...I really miss my son. It is a hard road to get through." When it was suggested to her that having failed to get justice for Michael in Jamaica we should try to get it elsewhere she readily agreed to JFJ taking a petition on her behalf to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights.


The petition was written and the lengthy process before the Commission begun. In March 2003, the Inter American Commission judged the petition admissible though the Government of Jamaica had vigorously argued that Miss Jennie had not done all she could in Jamaica and should have perhaps filed a Constitutional Motion or pursued a Private Prosecution. The Government also argued "that in any event an award of monetary compensation from a civil suit would be an effective remedy for the family of Michael Gayle".

In its report on admissibility the Commission wrote that "When a crime is committed that can be prosecuted on the State's own initiative, the State is obliged to promote and advance the criminal proceedings to clarify the events, judge those responsible, and establish the corresponding criminal sanctions." The Commission also noted that "It is clear that the obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish serious violations of human rights rests with Member States, as the entities with the International legal commitment and resources to carry out these functions. To expect the Petitioners to assume these responsibilities would not only be inconsistent with the [Inter American] system's jurisprudence, it would also place an inequitable burden on those who generally lack the means and expertise to fulfil these responsibilities."

The next phase of Miss Jennie's search for justice began with a hearing on the Merits of the Michael Gayle Petition in Washington D.C. before a panel of Commissioners. At that hearing in March 2004, attorneys Richard Small and Tamara Muhammad (a British born Barrister of Jamaican parentage who was assisting Miss Jennie's search for Justice) laid out the facts of the case for the Commission. They insisted that the Jamaican Government had gravely breached Michael Gayle's rights under the American Convention on Human Rights and made recommendations as to compensation for Miss Jennie and Michael's Family (including a public apology). They also asked the Commission to recommend that the state undertake an independent and exhaustive investigation that should lead to the prosecution and punishment of those found to be responsible for Michael's death. They also asked that the Commission recommend changes to the investigative mechanisms to ensure that the horrors visited on Michael Gayle at the hands of policemen and soldiers should never happen to anyone else.


The Inter American Commission on Human Rights has agreed that the Government of Jamaica violated Michael Gayle's Rights, not only because soldiers and police beat him so badly that it amounted to torture, not only because this beating led to his death, but because they failed to carry out proper investigations and to prosecute and punish those responsible. The Commission has made their recommendations and will monitor the government's implementation of its recommendations.


Miss Jennie's courage, dignity, strength of purpose and will has now been vindicated in the eyes of the world. She waits for the Government of Jamaica to live up to its commitments to its citizens, to defend their rights, to make a public apology to her and to make the necessary changes to prevent such wrongs happening to another son or daughter of Jamaica. How long will the Government of Jamaica make Miss Jennie Cameron wait for JUSTICE for her son Michael Gayle?

Author: Jamaicans for Justice
Source: Jamaicans for Justice


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