Rio murder probe snared in standoff over security firm’s guns

-owner alleges attempts to frame him, cops say duty-bound to follow all leads

Two months after 19-year-old Ryan Sergeant was shot dead at a Forshaw Street night club, the police investigation has been snared in a standoff with the owner of a security service over the testing of firearms in his possession.

The investigation has also seen accusations by the owner of RSS Security Services, Siddique Rasul, that he is being framed by the police and therefore wants independent observing of ballistic testing – a request the police have denied. Internal correspondence from Crime Chief Wendell Blanhum to Commissioner of Police Seelall Persaud on the probe has also raised concerns that a senior police officer and others have acted contrary to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in dealing with Rasul’s case.

 Ryan Sergeant
Ryan Sergeant

Police became interested in testing Rasul’s firearms after information that a prime suspect in the killing of Sergeant at the Rio Inn Nightclub had rented a firearm. Police have for weeks not provided an update on the death of Sergeant though five persons had initially been held in the probe.

Around 2.30am on September 26th, Sergeant was shot dead, while another man, Jeffrey Ferrell, was injured after an argument ended in gunfire in front of the nightclub. Sergeant, called ‘Harry,’ of Festival City, North Ruimveldt, George-town was shot once to his head and reportedly dumped outside of the Woodlands Hospital, where he was subsequently pronounced dead.

Ferrell, who also resides in North Ruimveldt, was shot to his neck and taken to the Georgetown Public Hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery.

Wendell Blanhum
Wendell Blanhum

The Guyana Police Force on Thursday released Blanhum’s letter to Persaud following a HGP TV Nightly News report which made several allegations about the conduct of the police probe. In a response to the HGP TV report, the Force denied allegations made in the newscast of unprofessional behaviour and also expressed disappointment that no comment was sought from police before the story was aired.

Blanhum’s letter to Persaud was in response to correspondence from attorney Nigel Hughes, who is representing Rasul, the security firm’s owner. Hughes’ letter, the police said, was dated November 21st and was captioned “Intended seizure of firearms belonging to RSS Security Services and the unorthodox police investigation.”

Blanhum, in response, said that Hughes’ letter was “riddled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the facts.” It was stated that in investigating the murder, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) ranks received credible information that one of the prime suspects, who is a very close associate of Rasul “rented from him a 9mm licensed firearm that was issued to his registered security company.” The police said that it was further disclosed that the suspect habitually provided security to Rasul.

Nigel Hughes
Nigel Hughes

“It must be noted that gun powder residue was found on the hands of this prime suspect and as a result, the detectives proceeded to further investigate this credible information….and contacted Mr. Rasul to have him hand over to them all the 9mm firearms that were issued to his security company for ballistic testing against the 9mm spent shell that was recovered at the crime scene,” the letter said.

It was noted that in addition to the 9mm spent shell, another calibre of spent shell was also retrieved. “Mr. Rasul was reluctant to produce his licensed firearms for ballistics testing and began to hurl wild and unsubstantiated accusations to the ranks that his business partner (name blotted out) wanted to use the police to seize his firearm,” the letter stated.

 

Breach of SOPs

According to the letter, Rasul later had a meeting with three senior police officers and was asked to bring one of the 9mm firearms when investigation had initially requested all.

“Contrary to the GPF’s standard operating procedures it was reported that Mr. Rasul was allowed to leave that meeting unaccompanied by a rank in order to retrieve the one 9mm firearm,” Blanhum said in the letter, before adding that the businessman returned an hour later with the gun and was allowed access into a restricted area within the lab to observe the examination. This, the letter said, breached the SOPs of the ballistics section. It was explained that under normal circumstances, the investigating rank ought to have accompanied Rasul to his place of abode to uplift all of the firearms and that rank is to then mark the exhibits and place them into an evidence bag and seal same in the businessman’s presence before forwarding it to the lab.

It was noted in Blanhum’s letter that when the breaches were brought to the attention of CID detectives, they went to the businessman’s residence to again request that all the firearms be handed over but instead were allegedly instructed by a senior police officer to withdraw from the location immediately. The senior officer was not named in the letter.

“To date the murder investigation is being stymied by Mr.Rasul’s refusal to cooperate with the police investigators and hand over all the 9mm firearms that were issued to him”, the letter said.

It was stated by Blanhum that assertions by Hughes that Rasul is a victim of a biased investigation are “ridiculous and far from the truth since the facts as established so far seem to strongly suggest that Mr. Rasul was given preferential treatment on more than one occasions in breach of the GPF SOPs.”

It was pointed out in Blanhum’s letter that the police had a duty to investigate all information provided, including his implication in the matter. It was made clear that police at this stage are making no attempts to close Rasul’s business in light of the information about the alleged renting of one of the guns.

Blanhum said in the letter that Hughes’ contention that a spent shell recovered from the scene was discharged from a .40 weapon is misleading and inaccurate. The crime chief said it was established that this calibre was one of two retrieved, hence the police desire to conduct ballistics tests on all of Rasul’s 9mm guns.

The letter said that other issues raised by Hughes were false and baseless and cannot be substantiated.

‘Nefarious plot’

Stabroek News was unable to see the initially letter written by Hughes but managed to see two follow up letters.

Hughes, in a letter dated November 22nd, 2016 and addressed to Commissioner of Police, Persaud requested that an independent observer be appointed for the ballistic examination of the full complement of 9mm handguns in the lawful custody of his client.

It was stated that pursuant to the request of the Crime Chief, Rasul attended the ballistic section on November 22nd, 2016 with four 9 mm Glock hand guns, which “were in Georgetown for the security of our client’s business premises.” Hughes said that the weapons were taken to the ballistic department for testing at the request of the Crime Chief.

“We are instructed that pursuant to the several requests of our client to have an independent observer witness the further  conduct of  ballistic examinations of our client’s weapons, we attended the  ballistic department of the Guyana this afternoon where we repeated our request for  an observer to attend and witness  the conduct of the ballistic examination as had been previously permitted by the Commissioner of Police (ag) when a similar request had been  made for the observation of the conduct of a ballistic examination for another one of our client’s weapons during the same investigation,” he said.

The attorney pointed out that contrary to his client’s legitimate expectation, the request to observe the conduct of the ballistic examination was “refused on the grounds that the ballistic expert had received orders not to permit any observation of the tests despite previously having allowed the same to have been done.”

Hughes said that there is no independent laboratory in Guyana which facilitates the conduct of ballistic examination and consequently his client, who is the subject of a police investigation, is entitled to have a person or expert of his choice observe the conduct of the ballistic examination, particularly given that there is the real possibility that the police will institute criminal proceedings against Rasul based on the results of the said examination.

The second letter, which was dated November 25th, addressed the contents of the previous letters sent to the police. The attorney’s letter said that his client is willing and ready to cooperate with investigators and to submit his weapons. His willingness, it was stated, was demonstrated through Rasul’s attendance at the ballistic department.

He said that his client is gravely concerned about the integrity of the investigation.

Hughes’ letter said: “We can verify from our experience of cross examining of police witnesses on the quality and integrity of the ballistic procedures, SOPs and examinations can and have been interfered (with) while weapons have been in the custody of the Guyana Police Force.

“Our client repeats his position that he will submit all his weapons for examination and repeats his request for the ballistic examination to be conducted in the presence of an observer within the course of one working day.

“We are afraid that the continued resistance of the Guyana Police Force to address the real concerns of a citizen about being framed and or subject to unorthodox methods only further reinforces our client’s suspicion that a nefarious plan is afoot.”

The attorney also rejected the police’s contention that his client was stymieing the investigation.