The well-planned attack at the New Amsterdam Prison, which left four inmates hospitalised with serious wounds, was carried out by five other inmates who armed themselves with acid and cutlasses.
Stabroek News was told that the prisoner who was implicated in the May 23 attack, identified only as ‘Shoulder,’ had four accomplices.
According to a source close to the prison, ‘Shoulder’ indicated to a prison warden that he wanted water. The unsuspecting guard opened the door to the cell to facilitate his access to a bottle of water. When the warden’s back was turned, the convict reportedly choked him from behind until he was unconscious. The attack began around 5.30 pm.
The source explained that ‘Shoulder’ then took away the master key that the warden had in his possession and proceeded to open several nearby cells, freeing his four accomplices. The source said the quintet then strapped themselves up with pieces of cloth, picked up cutlasses and a metal container which had acid and proceeded to the cell housing Kwame Bhagwandin, who was doused with acid and chopped about his body before being left to die. He sustained the most serious injuries in the attack.
In attempting to explain the layout of the prison, the source said that the cells which housed the quintet and Bhagwandin are located on the ground floor. After carrying out the attack on Bhagwandin, the free inmates then proceeded to the upper flat, where the cells housing Abdul-Salam Azimullah, 31, of Hampshire, Corentyne; Davendra ‘Bara’ Harricharran, 28, and Clarence ‘Wild Hog’ Williams were located. According to the source, the men went to one cell after the other and continued their rampage.
The wounded prisoners were reportedly screaming during the attack, which alerted the prison wardens that something was happening. “They [the wardens] couldn’t do nothing …but run fuh dey life,” the source stressed.
It was pointed out that there is a shortage of prison guards at the facility and those who were on duty at the time, although armed, chose to secure themselves and call for police back up.
It was almost an hour between when ‘Shoulder’ overpowered the guard and when the police arrived, this newspaper was told. According to the source, the attackers intended to open more cells but were interrupted by the arrival of the police. The wounded men all survived by playing dead.
The source said it is believed that ‘Shoulder’ had an issue with Bhagwandin and Williams. “It business problem they had,” he said, adding that it is unclear why the others were attacked.
The source insisted that prison officials are aware of the entry of illegal items into the prison. “Is dem man does bring them in. They does charge $5,000 for a cutlass and a cell phone is $3,000. All you gotta do is source yah thing and they gon bring it in,” the source said adding that the prison is “a lawless place…as long as you money right everything you does get.”
Relatives of the injured men had told this newspaper last week that prison officers at the facility aided those who carried out the attack. Crime Chief Leslie James had since said that the accusation is being investigated. The source pointed to a particular warden who took a position at the prison just over a year ago. The warden, the source said, has since vanished.
Asked if the cutlasses used could have come from the prison stores, the source insisted that they came “from the road.” The source said that the cutlasses and the acid were smuggled into the prison with the help of at least one warden. He said that ‘Shoulder’ and his accomplices hid their weapons and formulated a plan. Once the warden was subdued and they were free, they took their weapons out. “They premeditate this whole thing.” the source said. “These men had all the time in the world to do all that they wanted to do,” he added. Meanwhile, James told Stabroek News yesterday that the investigation is ongoing. He said that so far investigators have taken statements from persons including inmates. He said that at this point all aspects of the case, including the accusations against the wardens and how the items used in the attack got into the prison, are being looked at.
Those in the hierarchy of the prison administration have been silent on this attack. When contacted the Director of Prisons Welton Trotz declined to comment saying that the matter is currently in the hands of the police.
Bhagwandin and Williams are still patients of the Georgetown Hospital while the other two are at the New Amsterdam Hospital.
A security source said this recent attack represents a serious security breach and lays the foundation for something even more serious to occur. The source said that a cutlass and acid in the hands of a prisoner is not “normal situation.”
It was pointed out that it raises questions about the security in place, including how the articles got into the prison undetected.
“Don’t they conduct searches periodically in cells and other areas?” the source questioned, while adding that persons are known to make “jukers” in the prison but “cutlass is a whole different story. You can’t make that. That is a serious thing.”
He questioned what systems are in place to search prison wardens and other staff before they take up their positions in the prison compound. He added that the accusation of the wardens colluding with the prisoners is not without merit.
The source added that the circumstances surrounding how the guard was subdued raises a lot of questions. He questioned what sort of training wardens have that would allow them to be subdued by a prisoner. It was noted too that in the case that a warden is being attacked, there must be some alarm mechanism in place so that other members of the prison staff could be alerted about what is happening.
Walking around the prison alone, the source said, should not be permitted; instead “they should be walking in twos.”
According to the source there needs to be a serious investigation as it regards the Standing Operating Procedures and security mechanisms that are in place.