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Tragically, in Guyana, citizens with even a shred of common sense, have learnt to doubt every word, every statement, and every scenario presented by the current incarnation of the Guyana Police Force and there are serious doubts regarding the probity of the police’s investigation into Guyana’s most notorious prisoner’s escape from Mazaruni Prison.
A notorious death row inmate escaped from the Mazaruni Prison on Friday, May 19, 2023, after an armed intruder breached the prison location and launched a violent assault on the officers responsible for escorting him back to his cell following an approved visit. The inmate, Mark Royden Williams, also known as “Smallie,” was convicted of 8 counts of murder, for which he was sentenced to death by hanging and 4 counts of manslaughter, for which he was sentenced to life in prison – stemming from the Bartica massacre of 12 persons. Williams also received another death sentence for the murder of Guyana Defense Force Corporal, Ivor Williams. Williams had previously escaped from the Camp Street Prison on July 09, 2017, and was recaptured on the West Coast Berbice on October 10, 2017. A 10-million-dollar reward is being offered for information leading to his recapture.
Following the conclusion of an approved visit from Frangeliz Jugandry Flores Perez, 28, a Venezuelan of Alexander Street, Kitty, Williams was being transported on an ATV back to his cell when the officers accompanying him were attacked by the gunman, who was already lurking within the prison grounds. The gunman managed to provide cover for Williams and together they fled into a waiting speedboat with heavily armed accomplices. Williams was at the time, only restrained with foot shackles. He should have also been handcuffed – a glaring oversight that further compromised security.
There are several troubling questions that demand answers: How did this armed intruder manage to infiltrate the supposedly impenetrable maximum security Mazaruni Prison? Who planned and financed the escape of Williams since this was clearly an expensive undertaking? What agenda is this escape intended to serve?
Prior to his escape on May 19, Smallie’s was also visited on March 29, 2023. Authorisation for both visits, March 29 and May 19, emanated from the Georgetown Prison Headquarters, not Mazaruni. The pass for the ill-fated visit on May 19 was issued by the Registry Department at Prison Headquarters. Authorization was granted on May 16 for the May 19 visit, allowing three days for the escape scheme to be set in motion. David Shepherd, the Officer in Charge (OC) of Mazaruni Prison, was not at the location on the day of the incident. The most senior officer on the ground was former OC and now Superintendent of Mazaruni, Alexander Hopkinson. Hopkinson was reportedly unaware of the authorised visit. He only became aware of the visit when the visitor presented herself at Mazaruni with an authorised pass. Hopkinson then reportedly checked with officials in Georgetown and was given the go ahead to facilitate the visit in adherence to standard procedures for such visits.
Following investigation, the police have arrested several individuals thus far. These include Superintendent of Mazaruni Prison Alexander Hopkinson and three other prison officers – Oldfield Romulus, Omar Witherspoon and Conroy Hosannah. Also charged are a Parika businessman Rajmohan Autor called ‘Chico’ and a Venezuelan woman, Frangeliz Jugandry Flores Perez.
The political and police authorities seem keen on pinning the blame on Hopkinson and this has greatly disturbed prison officers. The latter can understand the reason behind charging the junior officers, who failed to carry out the visit according to standard protocol. Hopkinson’s arrest is harder to justify in the assessment of some prison sources, who argue that it seems as if Hopkinson was conveniently left at the helm that morning. Rumours swirl in the force about other intended or possible arrests – intended not to capture alleged accomplices but to purge the force of officers who do not toe the political line. There is also mounting skepticism among the public about the escape and investigation, and it is therefore imperative to scrutinize the credibility of these allegations and demand transparency in the pursuit of justice.
Prison officers with whom this newspaper spoke, noted that Hopkinson had retired, and was then asked to return to the service because of his experience and reputation. Hopkinson, however, was no longer OC at Mazaruni. That authority was given to another officer Shepherd, who though junior to Hopkinson, managed the location according to his training and judgement.
For context in this case, one must understand the special circumstances and orders designed for the detention of this notorious convict, Smallie. When Smallie was transferred to Mazaruni prison, he arrived with precise instructions and a meticulously orchestrated plan crafted by then Director of Prison, Gladwin Samuels. These specific directives were meant to govern his accommodations, clothing, utensils, bedding, searches, telephone calls, visits, exercise, medical attention, and religious practices.
According to the special orders, Prisoner Mark Royden Williams, known as Smallie, was to remain in a separate cell within the Solitary Division of the Brick Prison until otherwise directed by the Director of Prisons. This was meant to ensure his isolation. Additionally, he was supposed to be issued suitable prison clothing to easily always identify him when leaving his cell, with all civilian clothing, except his underwear, to be withdrawn. The orders further dictated that Smallie should be provided with all necessary utensils, drinking water, a mattress, sheet, blanket, and toiletries under the direction of the Officer in Charge. As a reminder, daily searches were to be carried out, including thorough checks of the walls, floor, ceiling, metal door, bars, and cell locks. Furthermore, the orderly attending to Smallie was to be searched before and after any interaction with the prisoner.
Searches were also required during unlocking and locking down, during shift changes, and at any time ordered by the Officer-in-Charge or Duty Officer. These searches were to be supervised by the Duty Officer or Supervisor, and additional officers were to be detailed if necessary. Even when Smallie left the prison for court appearances or medical appointments, he was supposed to be searched before departure and upon return. These orders reflected the seriousness with which the prison leadership considered the risks associated with the imprisonment of a well-connected master criminal. There were even restrictions on his telephone calls and the process for visitation–keeping in mind that the laws of Guyana and human rights laws require that prisoners, however evil, still have the right to receive visitors.
It is crucial to examine whether these orders were faithfully carried out. Were these plans amended? If yes, by whom? If yes, were the changes approved by the highest prison officials? As more information surfaces, serious questions arise regarding the execution of the special orders concerning Smallie.
How is it possible that an armed intruder managed to breach the secure premises, infiltrate the supposedly impenetrable Mazaruni prison and launch a violent assault on the officers responsible for escorting Smallie back to his cell? This breach of security raises grave concerns and necessitates a thorough investigation rather than a coverup and rush to judgment. Despite being restrained with foot shackles, Smallie should have also been handcuffed – a glaring oversight that further compromised security – who made the decision to remove or not escort him in handcuffs?
The police and political authorities in responding to public alarm at the escape of this notorious criminal, seem keen to rush to assign blame without proper investigations and have laid charges which ignore persistent questions and include simplistic accusations, lacking thus far in proof and common sense. The public demands transparency, accountability and a thorough investigation in the face of such a grave security breach.