Préfet Vincent Berton and Lieutenant Colonel Maxime Wintzer-Wehekind talking to the media about the violence in Sandy Ground Tuesday night. (Robert Luckock photo)
~President Mussington credited with talking to rioters and easing tension~
MARIGOT--Préfet Vincent Berton convened a press conference Wednesday morning to clarify, he stressed in “complete transparency”, exactly what happened on Tuesday that led to a night of extreme violence in Sandy Ground, based on false information that a Gendarme had driven into a scooter rider, and that the victim had gone into a coma.
Joined by Commandant of the Gendarmerie, Lieutenant Colonel Maxime Wintzer-Wehekind, Préfet Berton and the Commandant blamed erroneous information and rumours circulating on social media for the violence in Sandy Ground that saw Gendarmes and their vehicles attacked, three businesses looted and ransacked, and numerous rubbish bin fires lit as well as wrecked cars set alight. One Gendarme, a senior officer in charge, was injured when he attempted to reason with an angry crowd.
Trouble started in Spring, Concordia, earlier in the afternoon when some 20 Gendarmes had set up a routine control of scooters. One scooter rider with a passenger, both without helmets, decided to evade the control and took off, shortly afterwards getting rid of his passenger and speeding off again. This scooter had no registration plate either.
Mobile Brigade Gendarmes decided it was simply too dangerous to continue pursuing the scooter travelling at high speed. As it happened, the scooter rider collided with a car coming out of an intersection and crashed. He was not wearing a helmet and sustained significant facial injuries.
Lt. Colonel Wintzer said according to normal procedure Gendarmes attended to the victim while awaiting the pompiers who then transported the victim to hospital. However, a video circulating purported to show a different scenario, which in turn ignited commentary on social media.
The Commandant subsequently released a video taken by the Gendarmerie that showed several Gendarmes attending to the victim about 600 metres from the accident spot, attempting to turn the victim into a lateral position (a first procedure for security) although he was very agitated and in pain.
Berton said he had “no doubts that Gendarmes acted in a disciplined manner in keeping with their code of conduct and training as military officers.”
The violence in Sandy Ground the same day started around 9:30pm. Gendarmes closed the road at the former tourism office roundabout while Gendarme reinforcements were called upon from Baie Nettle.
“Gendarmes were heavily attacked, we had two vehicles damaged, and my officer in charge was hit with rocks on his back and legs, and he was wearing a bullet proof vest,” said Colonel Wintzer. “We also found some gas bottles near barricades and we believe that if these had been used Gendarmes could have been seriously injured or killed.”
“We asked for the President of the Collectivité to intervene because we did not want to use force and fight with the young people because that could make matters much worse. Our objective is always to dialogue and try to de-escalate tension," he added. “President Mussington arrived with one security person with him at around midnight to 1:00am and talked to the young people. We appreciated very much his involvement on the ground because that did help to reduce tension."