Five men were fatally shot early yesterday morning during gunfights with the police, who confronted them after a report that they were attempting to break and enter a Turkeyen house.
Dead are Timothy St Hill, 38; Levi Braithwaite, 31, of 2177 Layou Street, North Ruimveldt, Georgetown; Andrew Daly, 40, of Westminster Housing Scheme, West Bank Demerara; Ian Forde; and Jermaine Doobay.
The confrontation between the men and police unfolded around 3am and lasted for several minutes at one of the two houses situated in the gated compound at Lots 8-9 Turkeyen.
The property, which is located some 100 metres from the under-construction MovieTowne mall, is owned by a businessman who resides in Florida, the police said.
Acting Commissioner of Police David Ramnarine told a press briefing yesterday that the police responded after receiving a call via the 911 emergency system. He said the male caller indicated that he was present with his wife, two children and a grandchild at one of the houses on the property and that there were loud sounds coming from the lower flat of the house.
As a result, Ramnarine explained, a patrol which was in close proximity joined an anti-crime patrol and they journeyed to the scene. “An anti-crime patrol in ‘C’ Division, which was aware that a CID Headquarters plain clothes patrol was in the vicinity at Sophia, joined together and proceeded to the address given,” he said.
At the location, Ramnarine noted, the ranks spotted two men in the yard of the targeted premises with rifles. “Police challenged them, the men opened fire [on] the police who returned fire. Both men fell,” he said.
He added that at this point, a third man, who was in the house, ran out and was caught in that exchange of gunfire and subsequently collapsed. “Seconds after, a white motor vehicle, HC 4195, drove up, two occupants, two males (St Hill and Braithwaite) exited and open fire on the police. Police took cover and returned fire. Both males fell,” he reported.
Based on the investigation that was subsequently carried out, Ramnarine said it is suspected that the men were after a metal safe. From all indications, he added, the men gained entry to the premises by torching the gate. “…Some work was done on that gate by cutting certain parts of it but a crow bar was also used to wrench the gate off,” he said.
A number of items belonging to the slain men were recovered by police at the crime scene. They included an AK-47 assault rifle, with two magazines that were taped together, two other rifles, three cell phones, a pair of gloves, a pair of nippers, two crowbars, a hacksaw, a pair of slippers and a toque.
Two rifles and a quantity of ammunition were found next to the two men who were initially shot in the yard.
The police later confirmed that at least three of the dead man had criminal records and had been charged in the past.
St Hill, Ramnarine said, was charged in 2015 with possession of firearm and ammunition without licences; in 2016, with possession of narcotics; in 2017, with attempted robbery and break and enter and larceny and setting fire to the Grove/Diamond Police Station, where he had been in custody.
Last year, Ramnarine said, while the police were in pursuit of prison escapees Royden Williams, Urie Varswyk and others, St Hill was “very instrumental” in providing medical supplies, food and clothing to them. At one stage, he said, based on intelligence, St Hill was planning to obtain a firearm for the group.
Braithwaite, Ramnarine noted, was arrested in 2017 for armed robbery, while Daly was arrested for break and enter and larceny.
Checks were still being made up to yesterday afternoon to determine if Forde and Doobay had any previous brushes with the law.
Ramnarine also confirmed that an investigation of the fatal shootings is being conducted by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and the findings will be submitted for legal advice.
Nevertheless, he commended the bravery of the two police patrols. “…Their bravery will not go unnoticed. It’s highly commendable. Under fire they did not back off, they did not retreat, in the name of law and order, in ensuring that public safety is assured,” he said.
‘It was terrible’
When Stabroek News visited the property, the area was cordoned off and many investigators were on hand to process the crime scene. A number of bullet holes were visible, including on the verandah and the doors of the house. Windows were also shattered.
The property was not monitored by any security service or guard and there was no alarm system. In the yard, a short distance from the gate, the caretaker’s quarters are situated.
The caretaker who made the call to the police and who wished not to be named, told Stabroek News that he had been taking care of the property for about three months. He said he and his wife, who are from Region Six, usually stay at the property but they brought their children, ages 20 and 10, and a grandchild with them recently since school has closed.
The man explained that on some occasions they would sleep in the caretaker’s quarters and on others in the upper flat of the targeted house. On Monday night, they decided to sleep in the house. “We were sleeping and then something to 3 about quarter to 3 or so, not direct, we heard a noise like somebody trying to break the door,” he said.
He noted that it was his wife who first heard the sounds and woke him. “…When I peep outside, I see the shadow; I didn’t see nobody but I see a shadow moving and I hear the noise,” the man recounted.
He said he immediately took his family and they hid in the bathroom of the house, after which he called the police. “I call 911 and they respond. So fast that I didn’t even expect. After I finish calling them, I was only praying that the door ain’t break yet, because if the door did break, they woulda gain entry into the house, come upstairs and who knows what could have happened,” the caretaker said.
About eight minutes after, he recalled hearing a loud sound as if the main entrance of the house was being opened. “I hear this gate [the front entrance], like ‘bladam!’ But I didn’t expect they [the police] woulda respond so fast right, so I seh to me self like this is it now, because I thought was them [the bandits] coming but it was the police,” he said, while noting that he then heard running in the yard.
At this point, the caretaker said, he heard gunshots ringing out and he and his family lay flat of the bathroom floor. “Everybody lie down flat on the floor and then gunshot like two minutes non-stop and then silent and this is how it was on for like a while until it stop,” he said.
He subsequently peeped through the window and he spotted two policemen. “So then I feel relief that the police arrived. Then I hear somebody running up the stairs. They say ‘Is the police! Anybody in here?’ But I did not respond. Then again, he seh, ‘Is the police! Anybody in here?’ Then I left the family and I come out. He seh, ‘You alone?’ And meh seh, ‘No, is me and the family.’ And he seh, ‘Everybody come,’” he said.
The caretaker and his family were subsequently placed into a police vehicle and they were later transported to the police station. “It was terrible, horrible. Right now the children, I trying to talk to them, like to stray them from the trauma because since everything they have been very quiet, not saying anything and so,” he later said.
The man explained that he had been taking care of the property for about three months.
He stated that if the men were indeed coming because of the safe, it must be an inside job. “How can they know that a safe is upstairs?” he questioned.
The previous caretaker left the job after some items were reportedly stolen.
The early morning shootout woke many residents and left them in a traumatised state.
“It was terror,” said a resident whose house is located behind the targeted property.
The man, who preferred to remain anonymous, explained that he and his family were asleep when they were awakened by the sound of “rapid, rapid gunfire.”
He said he came off his bed and peeped outside to see what was transpiring. “I just see the police vehicle lights and the movement but I couldn’t really see what was going on… And then the gunshot ease for like a minute or two and it start again… I just hear hollering,” he explained.
A short while after the gunfire stopped, he went outside. “I go outside. I start whistle, call out me neighbours and so on. By time this [more] gunshots start fire and everybody had to run inside again,” he said.
He said when he called the police, they had already received a report and quickly arrived at the scene. “The police respond quickly. When I say quick, within five to ten minutes the police was on the scene,” he said.
“It was rough, rough. This guy downstairs start call out for me, everybody… meh son wake up and he start get vomiting and diarrhoea all,” he said.
He recalled that just before the shooting started, there was a power outage.