File No. 319.1123L25/31

Minister Price to the Secretary of State

No. 848

In the matter of the investigation being conducted by the Panaman authorities upon the Colon riot of April 2, 1915, I have the honor to report that upon reading the report of Captain Oliver Edwards upon the conduct of this investigation, I found the following paragraph:

It is most earnestly requested that the Panamanian Government be urged to give the witnesses who are now able to identify any of the Panamanian policemen guilty of misconduct, a chance to do so at once.

I thereupon addressed a communication to Colonel Adelbert Cronkhite, now commanding the United States troops in the Canal Zone in the absence of Brigadier General C. R. Edwards, asking for full information with reference to treatment accorded the representative of our military authorities at this investigation and as to whether the courtesy, consideration and opportunities had been extended by the Panaman authorities to the representatives from our military headquarters, to which they were entitled in the opinion of the commander of the troops.

The response of Colonel Cronkhite to this letter I have copied in full, with the exception of the first paragraph thereof, in a Foreign Office note sent by me to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Panama. A copy of this Foreign Office note is herewith enclosed.

A day or two ago the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Panama took occasion to state to me that he had been informed by the Panaman investigating authorities that they were about ready to conclude their investigation, and that he would be glad to know whether this was agreeable to our military authorities. I replied to him at once with expression of surprise that I knew it would not be agreeable; that I had understood that proper opportunities had not been given our witnesses to appear or to testify fully and that I could not emphasize too strongly to him the expectations of my Government as to energetic, sincere and earnest action on the part of Panama in searching out those guilty of committing the wrongs on this occasion and in prosecuting them vigorously.

I refer to the file in this case, and particularly to my repeated notes to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Panama and reports of conferences with him, and should be glad to have such suggestions from the Department as it may care to give as to what further steps I may be authorized to take in an attempt to procure fulfillment by Panama of its obligations in this matter.

I have [etc.]

Wm. Jennings Price
[Page 925]

Minister Price to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

No. 285

Excellency: Reverting to the matter of the preliminary investigation which has lately been in progress by authorities of your excellency’s Republic of the riot, which took place in the city of Colon on April 2, 1915, I have the honor to quote the following from a communication received today by this Legation from Colonel Adelbert Cronkhite, now commanding our military troops in the Panama Canal Zone, namely:

Governor Fernandez conducted the preliminary investigation of a great many soldier witnesses at which investigation Lieut d’Alary Fechet, 5th Infantry, was present. On March 2, Lieut. R. C. F. Goetz, 1st F. A., Aide-de-Camp; Private Foster, Company A, 10th Infantry; Private Seely, Company B, 5th Infantry; and Private Hartley, Q. M. Corps, appeared at Governor Fernandez’s office for the alleged purpose of identifying the Panamanian policemen whom they had seen misconduct themselves at the riot. On this date, the Panamanian police, ostensibly brought over from Colon, were in civilian dress. A protest was made on account of the manifest unfairness of seeking an identification under such conditions, so the policemen were ordered to report the next day in uniform. On this date, Lieut. Goetz first designated a policeman as one whom he believed that he had caused to be arrested in Colon on the day of the riot as Corporal Langdon’s murderer. On second thought, Lieut. Goetz stated that he was not sure of the man and desired to examine them all again, but this request was refused on alleged legal grounds, for that day and later this refusal was sustained, it is understood, by the Superior Court. The four enlisted men called, stated that they could not pick out Corporal Langdon’s murderer as they had not seen the corporal killed. This fact was recorded in evidence and it is to be noted that not one American witness was called who had testified that he had seen Corporal Langdon shot. And yet the evidence given before the Panamanian authorities showed plainly the names of the witnesses who had seen this particular shooting. Two of the soldier witnesses called stated that they could pick out among the policemen, the men who fired on the special train. They were informed, however, that they could not do this, as they were called only to pick out Corporal Langdon’s murderer and for no other purpose. Governor Fernandez stated to Lieut. Fechet that this identification was called, and conducted in accordance with a letter sent by the Prosecuting Attorney, Señor Almenger, the Superior Judge, Señor Arosemena, and forwarded by the latter to Governor Fernandez for compliance. Eight Panamanian policemen were brought before the witnesses for identification. It is believed that only one of these eight policemen were on duty at the time of the riot. Therefore, even had the soldier witnesses called, been those that saw Corporal Langdon shot, they would have had opportunity to identify but one of the many policemen who were on duty in Colon, on the day of the riot.

All that has been done in the hearing of the Colon riot case by the Panamanian authorities, so far as known to these headquarters, is the taking of evidence and the attempted identification referred to. As can readily be seen, practically nothing has been done as to the identification of the Panamanian police guilty of misconduct at the riot.

An alleged list of the Panamanian policemen on duty in Colon in the district where the riot occurred, on the date of the riot, was sent to the American Minister by the Panamanian Secretary of Foreign Affairs, as an accompaniment to the latter’s letter of September 30, 1915. This is not a full list of all the Panamanian policemen on duty in Colon on April 2, 1915, as the name of Carlos Nunoz, Policeman No. 3, whom Lieut. Goetz caused to be arrested near Broadway and 11th streets, on the day of the riot, does not appear in the list. Almost a year has elapsed since the riot. The passing of each day renders the identification of the guilty Panamanian policemen more difficult. Therefore, it is most earnestly requested that, without further delay, all witnesses who saw any shooting on the part of any Panamanian policemen during the Colon riot be given full opportunity to identify the policemen, whether they were shooting at Corporal Langdon or at any other Americans. It is to be remembered that there were other American soldiers shot besides Corporal Langdon. For this purpose the Panamanian policemen, on duty in any part of Colon on the day of the riot, should be brought before witnesses for identification, as perhaps the majority, if not all of the policemen were present at some part of the riot.

The witnesses to the shooting of Corporal Langdon are: [List of 15 witnesses not printed.]

The witnesses to further firing by the Panamanian police on Americans are as follows: [List of 27 witnesses not printed.]

I think that it is clear that the identification, so far had, is rather more of a farce than anything else. If the Panamanian authorities were anxious to do the proper thing in regard to ferreting out the parties responsible for the firing, action should have been taken long ago, but since it has not been, it should be taken at once, and all witnesses given an opportunity to see all Panamanian police who were present at the riot. It is recommended that this matter be laid before the Panamanian authorities, and that they be requested to take up in earnest the question of identification of Panamanian policemen by Americans, and this without further delay.

In view of the statements contained in said communication your excellency, I am sure, will concede the naturalness of the very large surprise which has increasingly possessed me, since your excellency told me a few days since of being informed by the Panaman investigating authorities that they were about [Page 926] to conclude this investigation,—your excellency kindly adding that yon would be glad to know whether our military authorities were agreeable to this.

This communication is submitted to your excellency with the confident hope that it will receive the earnest consideration in the office over which your excellency so capably presides, to which it is believed to be entitled, and, also, that action of a thorough and prompt character may follow at the hands of your excellency, which will be really effective in the premises.

The references in said communication will be particularly noted to the experience of Lieut. Goetz, who was refused an opportunity of a second inspection of certain policemen for purposes of assuring himself of correctness in the matter of identification, and that such a ruling was sustained by the Superior Court; that besides Lieut. Goetz, only four soldiers have been called for purpose of making identifications and not one American witness among those who had already testified before the Panaman authorities that they saw Corporal Langdon shot, has been subsequently called to make identification; that when two of the soldier witnesses stated on the occasion of their summoning that they could pick out among the policemen the ones who fired on the special train the day of the riot, they were informed they could not be allowed to do this, as they were summoned only to identify Corporal Langdon’s murderer and for no other purpose; that the proceedings thus far as to identification have been conducted, according to the statement of Governor Fernandez, in accordance with a letter from the Prosecuting Attorney of Panama to the Superior Judge of Panama, Señor Don Demosthenes Arosemena, and forwarded by the latter to Governor Fernandez; that of all the Panaman policemen engaged in the events of this riot only eight have been called and submitted to inspection of our soldier witnesses for identification.

Your excellency, I am convinced, can not deem it inappropriate for me to refer expressly to my Foreign Office note No. 267 of December 6, last, and to the repeated and insistent requests presented theretofore for information, which it was believed would be helpful in the conduct of this investigation. I now again respectfully request the balance of the information asked for in my prior repeated notes.

If this information now so long asked is not furnished my Government it would be appreciated if it may meet with your excellency’s approval to give the reason for the refusal to do so.

Further on behalf of my Government I respectfully request, if compatible with the will of your excellency, that information may be given it on the following matters, namely:

Who was sitting as Judge of the Superior Court of Panama, when the ruling was upheld of refusing Lieut. Goetz the opportunity of a further examination of the few policemen so far presented for identification and the reasons for such refusal.

Likewise, the reason for the ruling that our soldier witnesses so far called should have been limited to identification of the party, who may have murdered Corporal Langdon and should not have been permitted in the present investigation to attempt to identify every policeman, whom they might be able to identify even after the long delay of nearly a year in being given such an opportunity in each and all of the distressing events of that day.

Also, whether above rulings are to be maintained in such further progress, if any, of this investigation.

In the name of my Government there is respectfully recalled to your excellency the expression of hope, which my Government indulged, upon the repetition again on April 2 of last year of calamitous happenings like these, that your excellency’s friendly and neighboring Republic would, as never before, fulfill with a considerate promptness, energy and utmost earnestness every obligation which this responsibility imposed. Any failure so to do, your excellency will doubtless under all the circumstances frankly grant, can not fail to result in the fullest reckoning by the Republic of Panama to my Government.

While awaiting without any further delay than the necessities of the situation may require consistent with the disposition of your excellency, a complete and prompt response,

I avail [etc.]

[Not signed.]