Someday, there will be nothing of me but these lines to be read…
Someday, there will be nothing of me but these lines to be read…
#2014 : second highest number of police killings in 14 years
While it may feel to many that 2014 has been a record year in terms of the number of persons killed following altercations with members of the TT Police Service (TTPS) with 46 persons dead following confrontations with officers, that ‘accolade’ actually belongs to 2010.
That year, 49 persons were killed by police following varying interactions with the law.
However, the statistic for last year is still the second highest number of reported police killings since 2000, and unfortunately, this statistic is actually tied with the number of persons killed by police in 2009.
And while these numbers in the minds of many may seem to print a grim tale, and even give an impression of a “wild west mentality” by officers in the TTPS, with allegations of impropriety and dishonesty levied against the police reports for most of these incidents by grieving relatives or persons who claim to have witnessed the incidents; one must still remember that the threats that the men and women of this organization face are a very real and tangible thing.
In 2014 alone, over 500 illegal firearms were seized and removed from the streets of this country following police exercises; an estimated 75 percent of the 403 murders reported for the year were committed via the use of firearms.
And while these statistics are not quoted to condone any alleged actions of officers in the TTPS in favour of another year of a high number of police killings – because at the end of the day these were still 46 lives lost – it is presented in an attempt to give a holistic approach on the situation.
That said, the fact that investigations into several of these incidents are taking such a long time to be completed does not bolster public confidence in the police service either.
Most of the reports in which statements from the police and alleged eyewitnesses vary, are still under investigation, or if they have been completed, the information has yet to be properly disclosed to the public.
And while the loss of any life is a tragic thing, the one incident which stood out this year among so many was the death of Joel Apparicio.
It is a unique case because, if the events of witnesses to the incident are to be believed, then he was killed by a police officer while making his way to the San Juan Police Station for assistance.
Apparicio, 31, was killed on May 22, by a Special Reserve Police officer (SRP) in San Juan while running along Real Street toward the Police Station, to make a report.
Several persons claimed to have witnessed the police officer, who was last attached to the Witness Protection Unit of the Homicide Bureau and worked at a sub-station in San Juan, drive alongside Apparicio in a black Nissan X-trail motor-vehicle, roll down his window, and shoot the 31-year-old man apparently without warning as he was still running.
Apparicio died on the scene, and the officer who reportedly killed him remained parked in the car as a crowd, which included the 31-year-old’s mother Pastor Wendy-Ann Huggins, gathered around his lifeless body.
Reporters who were in the area at the time arrived on the scene mere minutes after the shooting took place and witnessed a grieving Huggins go through her son’s clothing and belongings in full view of the officer who killed him and the crowd who gathered, in an attempt to demonstrate once and for all that her son had not stolen anything and had nothing illegal on him – as in there were no firearms, ammunition, or narcotics in his possession.
Yet, the pastor as well as other persons in the crowd repeatedly noted that instead of arresting and apprehending the young man for whatever offence it was perceived he may have committed, in the heat of that moment, the SRP decided to shoot the fleeing man.
The police reports on this incident were simply that the SRP witnessed Apparicio running from a group of men who were alleging that he had just committed a crime, and that the 31-year-old was shot in an attempt by the officer to detain him.
But an autopsy performed at the Forensic Science Centre in St James by pathologist Dr Hughvon Des Vignes, did reveal that Apparicio was killed by a single bullet. The bullet entered the left side of his chest, perforating several vital organs, before exiting on the right side of his chest.
This autopsy report does appear to lend some credibility to the version of events given by Apparicio’s mother.
The last request from the media for an update into this incident came at about November, six months after this incident took place, and the media was informed that the matter was still under investigations, meaning that a decision on whether charges were to be laid against the SRP had yet to be made.
And while Apparicio’s case is being highlighted in this review, it remains one of several situations in which, months after an incident has taken place where there are conflicting reports between the police and alleged eye witnesses, investigators are still trying to gather the facts and make a decision on how best to proceed.
Other similar incidents include the killing of 21-year-old Naim Dean, the killing of 35-year-old Nigel Long, and the killing of cousins Hakeem, 16, and Tevin Alexander, 15, just to name a few. In each of these aforementioned incidents, there are conflicting reports between the police and persons who claimed to have witnessed the incidents.
#PCA looking into 45 police killings
Even the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), under the new leadership of attorney David West, noted that the Authority is currently looking into 45 police killings for their calendar year.
Speaking to Express on Wednesday, West explained that between September 2013 and October 2014, the Authority had exercised its legal right to initiate investigations into 45 police killings.
“The PCA’s role, and its mandate really, is to investigate such matters of serious misconduct and incidents whereby there are conflicting reports would fall into our purview. So what we do, on top of taking reports from relatives or witnesses who come in on their own accord to make formal complaints, is that we monitor the media and the news, noting what is reported and if there are complaints of conflicting reports. From there a decision would be made if the situation falls within the remit of the Authority and from there our investigators will go out and do what has to be done by gathering statements from relevant persons and such. We also perform a dual role in our duties in that we monitor and supervise the standards bureau as they take statements and such on various incidents which do include reports on police killings,” West explained.
#Body Cameras for police
Now, the knee jerk reaction to this high number of police killings would be to implement the use of body cameras on all field officers in the TTPS.
At the last police press briefing for 2014, acting commissioner of police Stephen Williams praised the actions of the individual in San Fernando who recorded an incident in which two Special Reserve Police officers (SRPs) mistreated a man in a wheelchair.
Yet when asked about body cameras for police officers, the “top cop” simply noted that the police service was still in the process of assessing the viability of this option.
“We are right now finalising an experiment with the body cameras to test their viability. It is just not about buying the cameras it is about managing how we use these cameras in the public domain,” Williams said.
He hoped the experiment would be completed in the early portion of this year, and from there, a decision would be made on how best to proceed.
Hopefully this means that field officers in the TTPS would indeed receive these cameras as the implementation of such equipment internationally has statistically seen a reduction in reports of police brutality and impropriety, and it would indeed be a solid foundation in rebuilding trust with the public as the truth would be easily accessible for all to see. There would no longer have to be extended investigative periods where the truth is being ascertained. It would be recorded digitally for examination.
President of the TTPS Social and Welfare Association Inspector Anand Ramesar is in complete support of this measure, noting that he believed that the service and its membership would benefit greatly as soon as the initiative was implemented.
“The use of body cameras is a contemporary practice for policing, and it is being used throughout the world in many police organizations and it is my belief that the TTPS will benefit greatly from it. The service should have access to such equipment in the immediate future, but we want to make sure there is a proper policy in place for the introduction of it. One which is not outdated and one where videos can be uploaded and saved to a server that will not be tampered with to ensure that the truth will always prevail,” Ramesar said.
Until this is done, the Association President said he remained in support of his officers in the exercise of their duties.
“The Association recognizes this year there have been a high number of police killings. However, one must also recognise that policing as a profession is as violent as it has ever been and police officers continue to run risks to their lives on a daily basis to ensure the safety of citizens of this country. So with this in mind, we continue to be a bit disheartened by the presumption that police have always acted with unnecessary force when they engage civilians and someone loses their lives. The TTPS continues to maintain a policy that we do not prefer an outcome whether a citizen, with a criminal nature or otherwise, loses their lives during an encounter with the police. What we ask for is that in these incidents police officers are not stigmatized or demonized when they act in these situations and the investigatory processes that are in place initiated, and that they take their course and are done in a timely fashion,” Ramesar said.
He then added, “the fact also remains, that the preferred weapon among criminal elements is the firearm and they are willing to use it against policemen and women. And when one looks at the murder statistics, one will see that many of these victims were killed by persons with access to illegal firearms. And while at the Association we will always be advocating a process to ensure a level of accountability, we also recognize and acknowledge that until body cameras are indeed introduced, there are the options of the professional standards bureau and the PCA to look into these matters, separate sometimes from the fact that there will also be a Coroner’s Inquest to look into homicides.”
A statistic which is not as easy to access, and which is also not as widely publicized through a combination of faults with the media and the TTPS, is the number of police officers who have been harmed this year.
In several of the confrontations which led to police killings, it was reported that officers had been harmed in the pursuit of their duties before they shot at their attackers. And while for the most part the names of these officers and the extent of their alleged injuries have been withheld from the public, the most publicized of these incidents for the year would be the shooting of PC Rondell Phillip.
Phillip was shot on November 4 along the Eastern Main Road in the vicinity of St Augustine. At the time he was with a party of officers on mobile patrol who were flagged down by an individual who claimed he had been recently robbed. The officers, who were part of the Northern Division Task Force sprung into action and attempted to detain two young men, however, they were fired upon.
PC Phillip was shot in the chest, with a bullet injuring his lung.
Unfortunately, he was not wearing his bullet proof vest at the time.
The officers returned fire and in this incident, Marcus Noel, 17, was shot and killed.
The actions of PC Phillip have been described as “heroic” and he has been commended for his dedication to duty and for putting his life on the line without hesitation, from acting Police Commissioner Williams, as well as Northern Division Commander Senior Superintendent David Abraham, among others.
Speaking to Express, Association President Ramesar noted that statistically, it was hard to say officially how many officers had been injured in the line of duty this year.
“There would have been reports from officers while on duty, while off duty but still responding to a crime. There would have been incidents in which injury occurred but the officers did not immediately report it. There would be incidents where officers would be psychologically injured or damaged because of what they witnessed and how it affected them. So while I cannot give an exact number at this point, I will haphazard a guess and say within the aforementioned parameters, dozens of officers if not hundreds. But the thing is, despite this, our officers continue to put their lives on the line for this country, and it is something for which each and every one of them must be commended for,” Ramesar said.
“I’ll deal with the rant this weekend. For now, this is the bare statistics on the number of police killings in this country for the year thus far. Inferences and opinions will be made later.” @nategreyy (Alexander Bruzual).
Police Killings 2014 TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
7, 8. Junior Noel, 31 & Anderson Deo, 22, were shot and killed in Freeport by police officers attached to the Central Division on February 14, 2014.
11, 12. Satrohan Ramhanie, 22, & Anthony Hospedales, 18, were shot and killed in Freeport by police officers attached to the Central Division on March 26, 2014.
13, 14. Jerome Clunis aka Cookie, 23, & Gilbert Browne aka Gaza, 25, were shot and killed in Morvant by police officers attached to the North Eastern Division Task Force on March 27, 2014.
25, 26. Tevin Alexander, 15, & Hakeem Alexander, 16, were shot and killed in Morvant by police officers attached to the North Eastern Division Task Force on June 9, 2014.
28, 29. Abba Diaz, 25, & Christian Asby, were shot and killed in Santa Cruz by police officers attached to the North Eastern Division Task Force on June 19, 2014.
33, 34. Beresford Asson, & Glen Bernard, 28, were shot and killed in Freeport by police officers attached to the Central Division on August 14, 2014.
35, 36 & 37, Devon Baker, 28, Kareem Edwards, 19 & Reuben Richins, 23, were shot and killed in Freeport by police officers attached to the North Eastern Division Task Force on August 19, 2014.
By ALEXANDER BRUZUAL
@NateGreyy (on twitter)
Last night (September 25), East Port-of-Spain was transformed into a scene reminiscent of a modern war movie, as the sharp ringing of gunfire was periodically heard in-between the whirling noise of helicopters and orders being barked by heavily armed soldiers and policemen.
The cause of the action?
Unknown groups of heavily armed men reportedly opened fire on the Besson Street Police Station at about 10p.m. last night, shortly after 30-year-old Dillon “Bandy” Skeete was killed by unknown persons.
According to acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams during a press briefing held this morning (September 26) at the police administration building, along Edward Street, Port-of-Spain, Skeete was one of three persons who were killed following a shooting incident along Desperlie Crescent, Laventille.
“Last night at about 10p.m. a group of men were located at Desperlie Crescent, Laventille, when a black Nissan Xtrail approached the group and five heavily armed men came out of the vehicle and ordered the men to kneel down. As they did so, the group were then fired upon. Five of the men from that group were injured. Three of them fatally injured. They were all taken to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital(POSGH), four of them by persons in the area and one by a police patrol which responded.
“At present two persons are at the POSGH receiving treatment under police guard. The three persons who have died are Dillon Skeete alias “Bandy”; Joel Tash and Sherwin Thomas. The T&T Police Service (TTPS) wants to firstly express condolences to the relatives of the deceased, but we also want to give the public the assurance that we will be doing everything possible to solve this crime, this heinous crime, which would have occurred causing a disturbance to the peace which would have been operating in Laventille for several months now,” Williams said.
When this Express reporter visited the scene on Thursday night, police sources explained that they believed that persons close to Skeete assumed that the men who killed the 30-year-old man were police officers, as law enforcement personnel and soldiers were known to use those make of vehicles.
As a result, a short time after the shooting, heavily armed men, said to be wielding semi automatic rifles among other weaponry, visited the Besson Street Police Station situated at the corner of Picadilly Street, Port-of-Spain, and opened fire on the law enforcement office.
This led to an immediate response from the Police Service, who called in assistance from the T&T Defence Force as well other policing units. The combined responses were all coordinated by the National Operations Center(NOC) and within minutes, the area was cordoned off, and heavily armed men and women of the National Security services were on the scene.
Aerial support was summoned by the NOC and helicopters were seen hovering above the police station, with lights focused on the roadways.
Heads of the various divisions in Trinidad and Tobago, including Assistant Commissioner of Police Stephen Ramsubhag (POS/West) Divisional Commander for Northern Division Senior Superintendent David Abraham, Divisional Commander for Western Division Ishmael David, Superintendent Johnny Abraham (Central), along with Inspector Roger Alexander of the North Eastern Division, among others, were notified of the ongoing situation in Port-of-Spain, and informed to be on standby in the event further assistance was required.
Law enforcement agencies locked down Picadilly Street and repeatedly told reporters that anyone who ventured on the roadway was doing so at their own risk.
In the briefing held this morning, Williams went on to note that he had not received information that the Besson Street Police Station was damaged during the shooting incident.
He also assured reporters that it was his information that police officers were in no way involved in the incident which saw five men shot, and he gave his assurance to the public that the TTPS would do all within its power to find the persons responsible and to ensure that peace was maintained.
“The peace that has been maintained in Laventille for the past few months is the kind of peace that we would want to continue for the rest of the year and we will do everything possible to return to that state which existed prior to yesterday. So the TTPS will work with the Laventille community on a continuous basis to ensure that the peace is maintained,” Williams promised.
Skeete, was a person of interest regarding the murder of 11017 Lance Corporal Kayode Thomas.
Reports are that at approximately 11:30pm, on Sunday, 29 June 2014, Lance Corporal Thomas while off duty was shot and killed near Plaisance Quarry Road, John John while driving his Mazda 323 on his way to visit a relative in the Beverly Hills area.
No one has been officially held in relation to this incident.
By ALEXANDER BRUZUAL
Trinidad and Tobago is at war….its citizens know it, they just don’t want to believe it.
Since the 2014/2015 budget (which occurred on September 8, 2014) and the announcement that this country will be procuring several Armoured Personal Carriers(APCs) as well as several armoured SUVs, the vocal consensus of this country seems to be in the negative, with most citizens condemning the Government’s decision.
From the “big questions” posed in the Trinidad Express, to the “people in the street” posed in the Newsday on the issue, and honestly (though it really is a poor example because most people appear to use it to troll one another) the comment sections of various news agencies in this country, most citizens seem worried and concerned on why “war vehicles” are needed for such a small twin island state.
Truth be told, this country is at war, and our Government needs to arm itself to fight this war.
But let me be clear, I said our Government, as in the representing body of the citizens of this country. The politics in this country, or poli-tricks as we would commonly refer to it, absolutely bore me. I care little for any of the majour parties that exist, including the current ruling People’s Partnership and its Opposition, the People’s National Movement. They bicker and squabble among one another like intoxicated and emotionally dependent members from the cast of Jersey Shore, and the people of this country are the viewership who, for God knows what reason, know they deserve better, know they are watching a train-wreck, but despite this, we just can’t reach for that remote and enact change….we just….can’t…look….away…
We are a nation of citizens who are so enamored at simply being content that we continuously, repeatedly accept sub-par governorship at the risk of the development of this nation as a whole….you need to look no further than the current socioeconomic status between Trinidad and Tobago, and Singapore, two countries that were both granted independence at roughly the same time(1962 and 1965 respectively)…but that’s a rant for another time.
Today’s rant, the first of many to come hopefully, stems from the fact that this country needs to prepare itself and arm itself for the challenges that it faces, and yes that includes the procurement of vehicles.
Yes, there are concerns of criminal escalation, retaliation, and the potential for a ruling party to abuse these new toys, and heck even the furtherance towards the creation of a military state, and the global statistics on this issue speaks for itself. But the same way I am not blinding myself to these issues, and dear God does it terrify me, it does not excuse me from blinding myself from the reality of the state of our existence.
Admittedly, this “clairvoyance” may come from my profession, which has been for the past six years as a crime-reporter in this country, and has allowed me to bear witness to the truths, lies, exaggerations, and understatements of our protective services. Take for instance, I have seen for my own eyes, the bullet holes in apartment complexes along St Paul Street, Laventille, Desperlie Crescent Laventille, Ovid Aly, Laventille, Picton Road, Laventille, (just to name a few) where mothers, children, fathers, and elderly people walk, live, sleep, and in several cases, tragically been killed.
I have heard with my own ears the silent warning whistle of Azrael, the angel of death, as the air is violently pierced by bullets which are shot towards residents of these communities. I have felt the bruises on my forearms and knees as I have thrown myself to the ground after hearing the horrifying, thunderous pops as these bullets hit their marks (in this case, thankfully, buildings, and not people), in an effort to avoid harm.
Weapons of war are being used in these communities. You can see for yourself if you go in these areas, the size of bullet holes in the walls of homes, some the size of basket balls. And if you think the fall out is simply limited to residents, think again. Businessman Parmanand “Pancho” Yarna was shot on June 12, 2014, around 6 am, while standing near his snackette, Pancho’s, on Queen Street, Port-of-Spain. The type of bullet he was shot with? 5.56 ammunition. Where was it fired from? Police believe the hillsides of Laventille and East Port-of-Spain. In fact Inspector Sahadeo Singh of the Besson Street Police Station said from the spot where Yarna was shot there was a clear line of sight to the hills of Laventille, and just a few days later, a M-16 rifle, was found in an area along Picton Road, which had a clear line to sight to Queen Street.
( http://www.newsday.co.tt/crime_and_court/0,196269.html )
( http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/2014-06-28/weapon-war-seized-raid )
Meaning that this is not just a problem for residents of Laventille or East Port-of-Spain, but ANYONE who works, or comes through the Capital City can potentially be a murder victim. THAT is the horrifying reality.
I have colleagues including Jensen Lavende and Azlan Mohammed, who had to duck for cover while covering a story. They had to contact senior officers they knew from the Port-of-Spain Division and request assistance, as gunmen were walking along the roadway in broad daylight and in full view of media personnel, emptying clips of their handguns in the direction of a group of persons including these media men and residents of the area. People in this country love the quote from the movie 300 that Persian arrows “will blot out the sun.” Admittedly it is a cool line……but when it occurs in real life, and the skies darken as it starts raining lead on your location, and the only thing you have to shelter with are the thin aluminum of parked vehicles and the poorly constructed walls of Laventille homes, while your heart threatens to claw itself out of your chest from pure fear… You are REALLY going to be thankful for the sun.
( http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/___Journalists_take_cover_from_gunshots_-169065366.html )
It is not an experience I think anyone should ever experience, but do you want to know the sad fact? Children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, anyone who lives in the East Port-of-Spain area, Laventille, and Morvant….they experience this terror on a nearly daily basis. And citizens of this country have become desensitized to this fact simply because these persons live in these communities, and it is what is expected. And that is such a sad, sad reflection of us as a society.
The best summation of this de-sensitivity actually can be summarized in the infamous words of a beautifully depicted comic book movie character…The Joker as acted by Heath Ledger.
“You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go “according to plan.” Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all “part of the plan”. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!” The Joker.
( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iwf20t9J1k )
Because of the high murder rate that we have experienced on an annual basis since the year 1999 ( the last year in which the murder toll was under 100. The toll for that year was 93), as a nation, we have emotionally removed ourselves from the plight of the people in Laventille and Morvant. This lack of emotion and concern is hammered wider each time residents of these communities do their best David Carradine impression (what? still too soon?) and try to shed light on their issues by choking the daily economic revenue made in Port-of-Spain and environs by blocking access to the capital city by throwing burning debris on the Beetham Highway or the Priority Bus Route.
And it is with this in mind that I come to the salient point (I know, I know….I’m so, so sorry…I expect this is how the companions of the Doctor feel whenever he gets into a zone and starts explaining things on the T.A.R.D.I.S….thankfully the name of this blog is TRINIRANT….so you kinda were prepared for what you’re getting yourself into). It is the members of the protective services who have to patrol these areas. The men and women of the T&T Defence Force and the T&T Police Service who are obligated to serve and protect, are as much at risk as the residents of these areas, if not more.
And to this end, as they are the ones who volunteered to plunge their hands into the filth so that we as law abiding citizens can keep our hands clean, and as such they should be, ought to be, need to be, protected. With weapons such as rifles and hand grenades floating around our streets (and these are just the weapons the police have seized, so God alone knows what exactly is really in circulation), APCs and armoured SUVs are a necessity, not a luxury.
My contention however, is not the procurement of APCs but rather, the high number which the Government intends to procure and where exactly do they think they can deploy these vehicles to? If they are to be utilized in these “hotspot” areas, then you can technically classify any significant purchase of these vehicles as a misappropriation of funds. The roadways which exist in these communities can barely contain the Toyota Hiluxes and the Nissan X-Trails that the police and soldiers currently use on their joint patrols.
In fact the access to many of these areas can’t facilitate vehicles, leading to significant foot patrols in these communities. So where exactly are these vehicles to be deployed? To the bottom of Besson Street, while these same men and women continue on their foot patrols? You see this is where I take issue with the purchases of these kind of vehicles.
The last release that was issued by the Ministry of National Security attempted to pacify and address concerns and revealed that only six APCs will be purchased initially. This number I have no problem with. But when you cross into an arena of double figures, one must consider if we are in a situation of wanton spending. And true to form, 12 more APCs have been budgeted for.
WHERE ARE THESE VEHICLES GOING TO GO!? WHERE ARE THEY GOING TO BE USED? The narrow roads of Laventille, East Port-of-Spain and Morvant that can scarce accommodate regular sized vehicles? So why such a high focus on these armoured land vehicles and not on vessels to bolster the might of the T&T Coast Guard? As I said, six to nine APCs to treat with the entire nation I can begrudgingly be comfortable with. It is a needed accessory in our war against crime. But when the Government intends to purchase at LEAST 18 over the course of the year, on top of 20 armoured SUVs….. it just seems that this money should be put into the procurement of more coastal patrol vessels and interceptors.
But, I am just a madman with a blog ranting out to the universe. I am not the definitive authority on any issue, so to that end…..Where are the sustainability reports of these vehicles for our roads?
And I know I mentioned escalation before but before I go, it bears mentioning one more time. Once upon a time police were assigned six shooters and the criminals started carrying 9mm round clips; police in turn procured 9mm and similar criminals escalated to semi automatic weapons; police get semi automatic weapons and criminals get automatic weapons; police get bullet proof vests, criminals get armour piercing rounds, and so on and so on.
Therefore, if our protective services get APC’s and make this information PUBLIC as they already have, what will we be encouraging the criminals to get?