(Trinidad Guardian) A crackdown on illegal activities behind prison walls may be the reason for yesterday’s brutal murder of prison officer Darren Francis, as his colleagues say hits on the lives of officers were ordered by one of the country’s most notorious gang leaders following the increased security measures.
Francis’ colleagues said during Police Commissioner Gary Griffith’s visit to the Maximum Security Prison (MSP) two weeks ago, inmates were made to kneel on the ground with guns to their backs during searches for illegal items. It was then the gang leader remarked that should any of his phones go missing someone would pay with their lives. There were also social media posts with prisoners threatening to take out prison officers.
In WhatsApp messages which surfaced yesterday, an inmate (not the gang leader) said he wanted to “kill allur whole family” and that they should pray he stays in jail.
“Real talk, old people, baby, anything I killing if allur really get muh vex. I send n kill something now, now, now. I is not normal do inno, real talk than.”
The T&T Guardian was told phones and other items were seized during recent lockdown operations, including one on Tuesday night.
Both shattered and incensed, Francis’ colleagues said he was just collateral damage in a war waged against them by inmates.
Francis, 38, was a radio announcer and a DJ on the Maximum Security Prison’s airwaves and only interacted with low-risk prisoners involved in a reformation programme.
According to reports, Francis, who had 16 years service, was about to leave his Princes Town home for work and had just got into his Nissan Note MPV in his front yard when, as he started his car he was shot in the back. CCTV footage from his house on Hillview Avenue, Sixth Company, showed he was approached by three men. He begged for his life and attempted to run after he was initially shot but fell to the ground. The killer then shot him three more times in his chest.
A neighbour said he heard an explosion which was followed by three more. However, he thought it was a scratch bomb. Another said she heard someone crying out, “Don’t kill me please.” Others looked out and did not see anything but contacted the police. It is believed his killers ran through a track to another street where a getaway vehicle was waiting.
Francis’ 13-year-old son was asleep in his room and only knew something was wrong when he woke up three hours later and saw police officers through their surveillance equipment. Francis’ parents —his father, a retired senior prison officer— whom he lived with, were away on vacation.
His supervisor, ACP Deopersad Ramoutar, described his murder as an assassination, despite saying investigators were unsure of the motive. Ramoutar said Francis completed his 8-4 shift on Tuesday and left without any problems. He said the prison service is giving Francis’ family psychological support.
“Mr Francis was an exemplary officer, forthright, old school and there was nothing negative we can say about Mr Francis. He never indicated any threats to us and it is all shocking to us how this would have happened,” Ramoutar said.
He said Francis’ interaction with inmates was all part of restorative justice and as his colleagues mourn his death, so too were the seven model prisoners who worked alongside him.
“They are distraught, they are sad and they don’t know how to respond. Tomorrow we have a funeral for an officer who died from an illness and then we buried another colleague recently due to an assassination, Mr Jackson, who was my batch.”
Ramoutar said he did not know whether the hit on Francis was called from inside the prison or whether it had anything to do with his job. However, he admitted prison officers were fearful of crime and were being killed for simply doing their jobs. Despite the fear, he said it does not prevent them from doing the job.
“We are all victims in this thing. Prison officers are unfairly targeted. It’s an unpleasant job but somebody has to do it,” Ramoutar said.
“People find reasons to blame the victims. We are the victims, it is not right.”
And while he believes there are corrupt prison officers who have aided prisoners in wrongdoing, he said the service continues to weed them out. He said it is just a handful of errant officers and some inmates who remain bent on remaining menaces to society.
Elder David Adolphus, whose Sixth Company Seventh Day Adventist Church overlooks Francis’ home, described him as a quiet and humble person who didn’t interact much with people because of his job. Adolphus said his ministry is involved in prison reformation and has been doing a great job. He said there are those who reject a change of lifestyle but said his ministry will continue to pursue those persons.