OLIVER - THE BROWNE’S STORY
Last essay we look at Donald. This time we look at Oliver, his cousin the young man that Aunt Dolly’s father, the godfather, loved and the man, who, we all heard her say all the years in growing up was the beneficiary of her and her sister’s inheritance. Aunt Dolly and Oliver are like twins in their mental make up.
Adapted from The Khaki Boys by Tatanka Yotanka 373 pages Available The Book Store
THE MURDER OF MICHAEL AGARD - 24TH SEPT. 1983
Who guards the guards? Mark Young
Oliver was Solicitor General and headed a commission of enquiry, which was a landmark in our history, into the killing of a young man, Michael Agard. The government called it in 1985 to avoid the prosecution of a murder case. It was a landmark in our legal history.
The case was an open and shut one that touched a raw nerve in the society and appealed to its common ground and Oliver turned the country upside down, all quietly without fuss. No one was more qualified, no one could have pulled it off like the finest gentleman in the island. He completely corrupted the system, the society lost its innocence: he made it clear that a poor man could not get justice from the new post colonial system.
Michael Agard was a poor, popular and well loved. He worked hard all his life, first at the National Housing Corporation for four years after leaving St. Leonard’s Boys School, a poorer secondary school, then at Rayside Construction Company.
Michael Agard, of all men, deserved a fair trial in his name.
Smilingly - Oliver has the same smile as Aunt Dolly - he did what he was supposed to do. His ruling was delayed for two years before it was released in 1988, five years after the murder. His verdict was similar to the slave murder cases conducted during slavery where under the law a slave, who witnessed killings, could not give evidence against massas.
A man was dead but Oliver deemed that the witnesses were without any legal character; he did not voice a concern that evidence disappearance, or about threats to witnesses and the collusion of evidence among the three principle suspects or invite further legal action.
His ruling permitted murder and endorsed blatant authoritarianism. The whole society had been forsaken by its wider jailers: the men, who guard the country and preserve the law: the courts, the police and the jail.
The public still asks up to today what of Michael Agard and who guards the guards?
On September 24th 1983, ten years after the oil crisis in 1973 and the beginning of the international recession, Michael, thirty-years-old, and also known as “Slims,” was serving a twenty-eight day sentence for a $780.00 child-support debt, when he was beaten to death by prison officers in the late hours of the night in cell D-8 in HMS Glendairy Prison.
“Michael wanted to make something of himself.” His child-mother, who lived in Haynesville in the government housing area, was broken by the loss of her children’s father. The two children who were the apples of their father’s eye cried for their father.
“He loved life, lived it for today, and spread himself throughout the community. Everybody loved him.” Said Cleveland Roach, Michael Agard’s friend and guardian. “Michael Agard,” he said “was one, who did no wrong, and, who loved his children dearly.”
His uncle nearly collapsed, when he saw Michael’s badly beaten body in the morgue. Anderson Waldron one of the marshals, who arrested Agard the day before he was killed said he could not believe it.
For the next two years, the long duration of time taken for a coroner’s inquest to be called and completed, the public watched to see if the prison officers would be brought to justice for the killing.
Information came out: prisoners in the cells adjacent to Agard, saw three guards visit Agard the night he was murdered, heard a bucket being banged and Agard shouting murder. The next morning he was found dead in his cell. From evidence it was obvious that there was a conspiracy among prison officers on duty that night.
On May 20th 1985, nevertheless, Magistrate Charles Harris, the coroner for the inquest, returned an historic and precedent setting “open verdict.” None of the prison officers would be charged. The open verdict left open to interpretation the degree of fear and terror inherently necessary to the rule of law and order in our country.
“Is the system just going to accept that they are withholding facts and let it die there just as Agard did?” Wrote Robert Best, the editor of the Advocate newspaper.
Mr. George Clarke, president of the prison officers association, responded to Mr. Best’s condemnation of Charles Harris’s open verdict with blatant institutionalized chauvinism. “He (Mr. Best) should not cause doubts to be placed on the integrity of prison officers and how they deal with prisoners.”
Rather than deal with the fact that an innocent man had been killed in cold blood by his officers, George Clarke could only see the situation as a threat to his and his men’s power.
The prison is, after all, the final authority of the state, and with the prison officers closing ranks, the open verdict of May 22nd left open to interpretation the degree of fear and terror inherently necessary to the rule of law and order in Barbados.
Like so many others around the world Agard became disenchanted after he lost his steady job in the mid-70’s. Development plans for the Third World ended in the 1973 oil crisis. Unemployment, indebtedness and inflation became the triple scourges of society.
Persons like Michael Agard were most vulnerable; optimistic from the glory days of economic growth of the golden 60’s, but owning no more than a few savings, the clothes on their backs, and maybe if lucky a small plot of land.
Michael Agard had dreams of a wife, family and children, but it was too much for a man to ask. By the early 1980’s when economists finally admitted the profound economic depression and its consequences in real terms for the world population, the cost in Barbados for many was already too high.
Agard would not forsake his children for $780.00. His mother, Clarissa Agard, said, “If he owed money, he would try his best to pay.” His family and friends said if he needed to borrow the money, they would have paid it. He did not tell anyone out of pride.
This was a real human story. It spoke volumes about Barbadian society under the pressure of economic recession.
Murder was permitted.
Oliver dismissed the testimony of all the witnesses, who gave evidence before the commission against the three prison officers, who went into Agard’s cell that night because they were prisoners. The tactic he used was that they had no right to give evidence against their jailers. Like slaves, who witnessed the killing of one of their own by a master, human beings lost their rights once they set foot in prison. In essence he said that to be a convict in 1983, was to be a slave.
Prisoner Gardia Stanford testified that he saw three guards, Hippolyte, Gittens and Harwood, go into Agard’s cell, and then heard Agard shout for, “Murder! Murder!” Prisoner Vinsford Green gave evidence that he heard Agard shout “Get out of my cell! Murder! Murder!” and when he looked through the peep-hole of his cell, Harewood chased him away. Prisoner Michael Forde in the cell adjacent to Agard’s said the three guards “went into the cell and started to beat the man” and that when he told the prison chief, Hippolyte threatened to kill him.
Oliver let it pass that all said that the police did not record their statements.
He then simply jumped over and brushed the whole thing to one side and argued that it was all a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Michael Agard had no right being in prison. These kinds of things happen there. It was all unfortunate but that is how things are.
He ordered no official investigation into tampering of evidence, when in the course of the commission it came out that all the police evidence taken from the cell of death had disappeared, including photographs of the crime scene, and the possible murder weapon, a metal water pail dented out of shape.
The prisoners who gave evidence said it was common to be beaten in prison by the guards. One of them said he had his head locked off and threatened with wanting his “fucking throat cutting” if he squealed about Agard.
Another saw the progress of the questioning and said, because he was scared for his life, “I done with that. I don’t want to hear any more talk.”
End of excerpt