Sun | Jun 16, 2024

Controversial cleric’s last ride

Attorney dismisses, as ‘rubbish’, coroner’s inquest ruling that religious leader Kevin Smith died by suicide

Published:Sunday | May 26, 2024 | 12:12 AMLivern Barrett - Senior Staff Reporter
An accident scene investigator examines the wreckage of the vehicle in which Kevin O. Smith and a policeman sustained injuries along Church Road, in the vicinity of the Linstead Bypass, on October 26, 2021. Both Smith and Constable Orlando Irons succumbed
An accident scene investigator examines the wreckage of the vehicle in which Kevin O. Smith and a policeman sustained injuries along Church Road, in the vicinity of the Linstead Bypass, on October 26, 2021. Both Smith and Constable Orlando Irons succumbed to their injuries.


Police personnel examine two of the vehicles involved in a smash-up along Church Road in St Catherine on Monday. Religious leader Kevin O. Smith and Constable Orlando Irons died from crash-related injuries.
Police personnel examine two of the vehicles involved in a smash-up along Church Road in St Catherine on Monday. Religious leader Kevin O. Smith and Constable Orlando Irons died from crash-related injuries.
Religious leader Kevin Smith
Religious leader Kevin Smith
Kevin O. Smith
Kevin O. Smith
Kevin O. Smith
Kevin O. Smith
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith
Policemen raise the Jamaica Constabulary Force flag at halfmast in honour of the late Constable Orlando Irons at the Freeport Police Station in Montego Bay on October 26, 2021, a day after he and disgraced pastor Kevin O. Smith succumbed to crash-related i
Policemen raise the Jamaica Constabulary Force flag at halfmast in honour of the late Constable Orlando Irons at the Freeport Police Station in Montego Bay on October 26, 2021, a day after he and disgraced pastor Kevin O. Smith succumbed to crash-related injuries.
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Last week’s coroner’s inquest ruling that controversial religious leader Kevin Smith died by suicide has drawn a stinging rebuke from criminal defence attorney Valerie Neita-Robertson, King’s Counsel, who represents Smith’s estate and is contemplating filing a lawsuit against the government in relation to his death.

“If the man assaulted the police and that caused the accident, how do you come up with suicide?” Neita-Robertson questioned during an interview with The Sunday Gleaner on Friday.

“That’s rubbish, that’s absolute rubbish,” she fumed.

Neita-Robertson complained, too, that neither of Smith’s attorneys nor his family were notified about the coroner’s inquest.

“There is Mr (Henry) McCurdy in Montego Bay, who was on the case, and there is me, right, and these things are held and there is nobody to watch the proceedings and to see that people’s interests are protected,” she said.

“Of course, if it’s suicide then a (law)suit cannot succeed against the government.”

During the coroner’s inquest, it was outlined how, seated on the back seat of a police car heading towards Kingston on October 25, 2021, Smith delivered three frightening warnings to the policemen who were escorting him.

Smith, whose hands were shackled with foot cuffs because they were too large for the regular handcuffs, was sandwiched between Andre Ruddock, one of his parishioners, and Police Constable Orlando Irons.

The religious leader and Ruddock, who were suspects in an alleged deadly ritual at Smith’s church, Pathways International Kingdom Restoration Ministries, were being transported by Irons, along with constables Ryan Harrison and Chevan Gordon, from their jail cells in St James to the Kingston offices of the Major Investigation Division to face criminal charges.

“Officers, I guarantee you that this car will not make it to Kingston today,” Smith said twice, according to sworn witness statements given by Harrison, the driver of the car, and Gordon, who was seated in the front passenger seat.

The statements, which were obtained by The Sunday Gleaner, provide a glimpse into the final moments before the charismatic cleric perished, along with Irons, in a three-vehicle crash along the Linstead bypass road, in St Catherine, on October 25, 2021.

First warning

“Irons then said to me ‘Harrison, you hear dat’? And I replied ‘yeah man, me hear him’,” Harrison said, recounting Smith’s first warning, which came after a brief stop at a St Ann gas station to buy him a bottle of water.

However, he said he looked at Smith and his hands through the rear view mirror “to ensure that they were securely cuffed and it (sic) was”.

Minutes later, as the vehicle made its way through Steer Town, also in St Ann, Harrison said he heard Smith singing “very loudly” and “speaking in unknown languages” before repeating his earlier warning.

“Whilst travelling through the Chalky Hill community, I heard Mr Smith utter the following words, ‘Officers, this car not making it to Kingston today’, for a second time and he started to sing loudly again,” his statement read.

Gordon’s statement said, “My colleagues and I did not respond” to Smith’s comment.

The team was directed by a detective inspector to use the “old parochial” road through St Ann “and not the North-South Highway as no administrative provision was made as it relates to toll fees or toll passes and he does not have money to pay the fee for three service vehicles,” Harrison’s statement read.

According to both constables, Smith continued to sing loudly and spoke in an unknown language until the doomed Toyota Corolla crossed over into St Catherine where the cleric delivered one final warning as the vehicle approached the Linstead roundabout heading towards Bog Walk..

Harrison said,“I then heard Mr Smith saying ‘this is my parish of birth, I must die in my parish’.”

Gordon’s statement quoted Smith as saying: “This is my parish, my family is from St Catherine (and) I want to die in this parish.”

The cleric then requested a bathroom stop, complaining that he could no longer hold his urine and was about to “wet himself”, Gordon recounted.

He said Harrison responded by telling Smith “kindly stop the talking, we will stop in time”.

Gordon said he telephoned the team leader, a police corporal who was travelling in a second vehicle, to alert him to Smith’s request when he “suddenly heard Constable Irons shout out ‘man, weh you a do’.

He said he turned around to see Smith pulling Harrison, the driver, by the shirt and shoulder. According to him, Harrison shouted “hold him” while Irons tried to restrain Smith before “I felt the car make a swing and I felt an impact”.

‘I must die in my parish’

Harrison’s statement indicated that, while navigating traffic with the guidance of the second police vehicle, he felt someone grab his left shoulder and pull it.

He said he glanced around to see that it was Smith who was shouting “loudly” that “this is my parish of birth (and) I must die in my parish”.

“I then shouted, ‘hold him’ and then I felt an impact,” his statement read, noting that the next thing he remembered was waking up in a hospital.

A post-mortem examination conducted in November 2021 found that Smith’s death was due to contusions to the brainstem and multiple blunt force trauma. Irons’ cause of death could not be ascertained.

A coroner’s inquest into the circumstances that led to the deaths of Smith and Irons ended last Tuesday with a judge ruling that the controversial cleric caused the accident in a bid to commit suicide.

Judge Carol Hughes said she found the cops to be credible witnesses before ruling that the collision did not occur because of excess speeding.

John Jacobs, the attorney who represented the police force and the two surviving policemen, said the judge found, based on the evidence, that Smith assaulted the policemen who were transporting him, describing his actions as unlawful and dangerous.

On Friday, Neita-Robertson said she will seek, within the next week, to get copies of the notes of evidence from the inquest as well as the witness statements that were relied on “so I can make an assessment of the court’s findings”.

Smith, who asked his congregants to address him as ‘His Excellency’, ‘Daddy’ or ‘Father’, came to national attention in October 2021 when the security forces stormed his now shuttered church, in Montego Bay, St James, amid claims that two people were killed and others injured in a bizarre ritual.

Prosecutors later alleged, in a detailed public statement, that Smith ordered Ruddock to behead female parishioner Tanika Gardener, whose throat he had already slashed with a knife handed to him by the cleric.

Ruddock is awaiting trial for murder.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com