Fiji's police chief gives update on brutality cases
Fiji's Police Commissioner says he is expecting a decision from state prosecutors in the next few weeks on a brutal beating case which emerged online two and a half years ago.
Fiji's Police Commissioner Ben Groenewald says he is expecting a decision from state prosecutors in the next few weeks on a brutal beating case which emerged online two and a half years ago.
Security forces are alleged to have been behind the torture which was filmed and widely viewed online.
Mr Groenewald gave Sally Round an update on his efforts to bring security forces to account over brutality.
BEN GROENEWALD: There are still issues or complaints of misuse of power and authority by police officers. But that's a world phenomenon. I'm certain - well I'm satisfied, that since my arrival here we've had one case where an escapee was arrested and he was brutally assaulted and unfortunately died. I opened the case immediately, I appointed independent investigators. And within a month and a half we had a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions in this case. And he charged seven police officers and one voluntary officer. And it has been produced in court already and all the police officers involved in that were immediately suspended by me. And after they were charged, they are now interdicted. That means that they are out of the police but still police officers until the decision has been taken by the court on the outcome of the case.
SALLY ROUND: And there are a number of other cases out there aren't there and there was a case before you arrived and that was widely seen on social media. The online video of the beating of the escapee. What has happened to that case?
BG: That was in fact one of the challenges before this so-called case happened - is that I got hold of the docket and it was unfortunately filed away. I had discussions with DPP in that case. The case was resubmitted to the DPP and I am waiting on his decision on the outcome. I expect that he might make a decision on prosecuting those people involved but that is up to him, I'm waiting for his decision.
SR: Well it's been a long time hasn't it?
BG: It is unfortunately a long time. As indicated, the case was filed away for reasons unknown to me. I got hold of it and I reopened it and I had to reinvestigate the losing links and the DPP referred back the case to us for some questions. And I understand that they will make their decision fairly early - in the next few weeks hopefully. A recommendation by the office of the DPP is that they will wait for the decision by the DPP Mr Christopher Pryde, within the next few weeks.
SR: There's also another case - a father of three allegedly beaten. Now you've said you wouldn't tolerate police brutality. What's happened here?
BG: [...?] was investigating this case by my independent investigators. We came upon other complaints by citizens. In fact, I had a so-called public session with the public in Lautoka. And they came up with concerns about guilt treatment by the police. And I opened seven cases. All those seven cases has been fully investigated and they are also with the DPP's office for a decision.
SR: Are you happy with the length of time these cases are taking at the DPP?
BG: Unfortunately, I cannot prescribe timelines to the DPP. He has his ways and means of how he evaluates all the cases and we wait normally for his decision. So I cannot put pressure on him on when he must make a decision. He's independent from the police and I accept his independence.
SR: What mechanisms do you have internally within the force?
BG: There's two options. You have your complainant that says 'we would like you to investigate this internally' or 'we would like to lay a criminal charge'. That is up to the discretion of the complainant. Normally, if they're up on criminal investigation - a criminal investigation is opened immediately. At the same time, we start with an internal investigation through my internal affairs. I have a component of all trained detectives and they only investigate internal complaints against police officers. So simultaneously with a criminal case, the internal case goes on. We have an internal tribunal that's been done by an officer, and I am the last signatory of that. And in terms of my prerogative, I can either find a person or I can dismiss a person, or I can make any other decision on his - found guilty by the tribunal. I think that I made it very clear that I will not tolerate ill treatment of the citizenry - but some people call, a brutality. And I will not tolerate any dishonesty. And those are the two issues that I'm investigating immediately and we take steps. My disciplinary procedures is normally done within thirty days because there's no need for you to investigate and wait for two months or three years. The unfortunate thing is that the justice system is very slow and that's what you were referring to. It takes time before a person appears in court and it might take another year before the court case has been finalised but that is out of my hands. For me, the quicker I investigate fully and submit to the DPP, then I'm satisfied that there's no delay within police. And that was unfortunately previously the case that people were a little bit hesitant in finalising the cases and was [...?] and that was the reason why some of these cases took a long time.
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