Jamaica's own Dirty Harry goes on trial over killing of youths

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The Independent US

For a police superintendent about to be tried on charges of multiple murder, Renato Adams, now suspended from duty, seems remarkably untroubled.

For a police superintendent about to be tried on charges of multiple murder, Renato Adams, now suspended from duty, seems remarkably untroubled.

"These people want us to go after criminals on bended knee while they fire on us," he told The Independent last week. "and then receive a posthumous award - because we behaved in a very tolerant way. I don't think like that."

On Monday, Supt Adams will go on trial in Kingston for his involvement in the Braeton killings of 2001, when seven youths were shot dead during a raid by officers of the so-called crime management unit (CMU) of the Jamaican police.

For much of Jamaica, for whom Supt Adams has become a folk hero, it will be a trial of their very own Dirty Harry. During the past five years he has been, without question, the most notorious cop in the Caribbean.

The CMU was created in 2000 to tackle spiralling rates of crime in one of the most violent countries in the world. Supt Adams, who was in charge of the unit, decided that brutal murders required a brutal response.

"By 2000 crime was rampant" he said. "There was murder in the streets, car robberies, hijacking of cars, rape, kidnapping, drugs and gangs led by criminal dons.

"I was surprised to be asked to head the CMU but I happily took it up. We hit the streets - roughly and firmly - but within the constitution, within the law and, most importantly, within the bounds of my own moral code".

That moral code permitted operations which have since been condemned by Amnesty International and led to the eventual disbanding of the CMU. Shoot-outs were common. Night-time raids invariably ended violently. In the town of Crawle, not far from Kingston, two men and two women were killed during a raid, although witnesses claimed they offered no threat to CMU officers.

The Braeton killings were even more gruesome. Seventy-two rounds of police ammunition were fired and the bodies of the seven victims bore a total of 40 gunshot wounds. Some had up to four gunshot wounds in the head, and were also shot in the legs. One was so disfigured that the embalmer was unable to reconstruct his face for the traditional open coffin.

More than 150 such incidents were highlighted by Amnesty.

Finally, the Jamaican Police Commissioner, Francis Forbes, ordered an investigation into the workings of a police unit that appeared to be operating outside the law. Seven members of the CMU were arrested, including Supt Adams.

Monday's trial will determine the limits of permissible policing in a country where last year there were more than 1,500 killings, compared with 700 in the UK, which has a population some 30 times greater.

Supt Adams claims his method of policing is not only necessary, but is supported by the majority of his countrymen.

"I have respect among the people of Jamaica" he says, "and I think three-quarters of them support me." He admits, however, that "to protect the national security of Jamaica, which I have an obligation to die for" he is prepared to "break the rules"; a philosophy which has also been described as "unlawful law enforcement".

According to statistics on police killings compiled by Families Against State Terrorism, such tactics have produced 140 violent deaths a year from 1999 to 2003 - the highest in the world.

Supt Adams says his suspension and the end of the CMU came as a complete surprise. "The Commissioner told me he was saving me from myself," says Supt Adams. "He spoke about policemen going around shooting people and made many other statements that were quite prejudicial."

On the subject of the human rights groups which have condemned him, he is scathing. "When a man stupidly takes on the police in a gun battle and he is killed, they come out with their cries of 'cold-blooded murder', 'independent investigation', 'we want Scotland Yard' - they're not human rights activists, they're about rights for criminals!"

For Scotland Yard, which has been consulted by Commissioner Forbes on the case, there is a scarcely veiled threat. "I look on Jamaica as a sovereign state," Supt Adams said. "I do not answer to Scotland Yard, and I will not talk to them. I hear they are urging my immediate arrest. If they tried it I would become very, very physical - I don't say what I would do!"

Since he rarely talks without placing a gun on the table beside him, it would be wise to take his words at face value.