Police Chief faces contempt of court charges arising from shooters’ lawsuit
Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith today found himself on the other side of the law and blamed it on bungling in the handling of court documents.
Griffith appeared before Justice William Chandler, facing the possibility of being found in contempt of court for defying an interim injunction order to cease and desist from refusing to renew the licences of sport shooters or those licences endorsed with the words “For Target Shooting Only”.
In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court today, the police chief submitted that he only saw the interim order along with correspondence from Wilfred Abrahams – attorney for the claimant and sports shooter Bernard McDonald Chase – 13 days after it was issued by Justice Chandler on April 23, 2015.
Chase, who is spearheading a class action suit against Griffith for refusing to renew the licences of sport shooters in Barbados, had successfully asked the court to put a hold on any further action by the Acting Commissioner in refusing to renew the licences, until the substantive matter was heard.
The claimant wants the court to make a declaration that the decision to stop renewing those licences was in breach of the Fire Arms Act, that the commissioner has no authority to make such a decision and that the previous action was null and void.
But during the committal hearing of the contempt of court case this morning, the sports shooters achieved an apparent unexpected victory when, according to Abrahams, the top cop made a sworn statement that he had ordered the resumption of renewing licences for those involved in sport shooting in Barbados.
Abrahams said even though the notification was not official, he and his client were satisfied with and accepted the statement of the commissioner before the court, therefore removing the licence renewals as a complaint. The attorney however said his client still intended to pursue the substantive matter [the initial refusal to renew] which will be heard on June 8.
“Although the commissioner had started back [renewing licences] . . . , if there was a contempt, if the court finds that there was a contempt or the circumstances pointed to the fact that there was a contempt, that contempt has been purged. But you still need answers as to why the refusal was done in the first place and why it continued even after an order from the court,” emphasized Abrahams, in explaining why he was pushing ahead with the case despite the unofficial victory.
Abrahams said: “The substantive matter was a decision by the Commissioner of Police to stop renewing sporting licences . . . licences that have stamped on them “Use For Target Shooting Only. Our contention is that was illegal. The Firearms Act clearly specifies and clearly outlines what needs to happen before you could revoke or refuse to renew somebody’s licence.”
The attorney argued that refusing to renew a licence is tantamount to revoking it. He said the act sets out specific guidelines which have to be followed, including giving the person notice and an opportunity to say why their licences should not be revoked or refused. “And we are saying that did not happen,” pointed out Abrahams.
He suggested that even if the acting Commissioner had the jurisdiction to take the action he did, the process was not followed. “We are going to present that case to the court. It would be interesting to see what their defence is at the end of the day, because no defence has been filed in the substantive matter as yet.”
Referring to Griffith, the lawyer for the shooters said one cannot willy nilly just decide to depart from following the rule of law or procedures when it suited him. Abrahams said his legal team, which includes Bryan Weekes and Sukeena Maynard, will now study the affidavit lodged by the police chief today and respond if necessary.
In that affidavit, the acting Commissioner further stated that at no time did he willfully determine to defy the interim injunction order, adding that even before the actual document reached him on May 6, he gave a directive to renew the licences, following discussions with the Solicitor General the same day. He recalled in the affidavit that he then launched an investigation into the whereabouts of the documents which were mentioned to him in discussions with the Solicitor General.
Griffith stated that when he inquired of one Acting Station Sergeant K. Norville from the Royal Barbados Police Force registry, the officer confirmed receiving the documents, which he told him he had passed onto the office of the Deputy Commissioner Oral Williams. However, further investigation by the police chief, according to the affidavit, discovered that the deputy was not aware of the documents. After further checks by the deputy, he turned up in the Acting Commissioner’s office with a pile of documents, including the court order, together with correspondence from Abrahams and Jared Richards, attorney in the Solicitor General’s office – both dated April 27, 2015.
“It became apparent to me that there was some bungling as to the handling of the documents; a state of affairs which is sorely regretted. However, I wish to reiterate that at no time did I willingfully defy the order of this court,” added Griffith’s affidavit.
He denied any threats of arrest or charges were ever leveled at those licence holders by any police officer and no tactics of intimidation were used. “I deny that I have in anyway acted inconsistently with my statutorily appointed role and duties. I humbly request that this Honourable Court dismiss this application for contempt and refuse the claimant the relief he seeks against me,” concluded the affidavit.