T&T inmates ordered hit over cellphone crackdown

 (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.

Dar­ren Fran­cis

“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.

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