(Trinidad Guardian) Hours after three people including a teenage girl were killed at Marcel Circular, Big Yard, Carenage, allegations that police officers are moonlighting as “hitmen” surfaced with angry residents promising to dispense their own form of justice if nothing is done by the relevant authorities to arrest the situation.
Emotions and tempers ran high yesterday as several men and women from the area gathered to explain exactly what led to the deaths of Keron Eve, 30; Kareem Roberts, 27; and Naomi Nelson, 14; on Friday night.
Nelson was a student of the Mucurapo West Secondary School and a member of the Western Division Police Youth Club.
Also injured during the incident was resident Christian Eve, 31 and Ronaldo Sydney, 21, the godson of Prime Minisetr Dr Keith Rowley, who is the MP for the area. Two police officers were reportedly injured as well, but the TTPS did not reveal their names.
Up to late yesterday, the two remained in a stable condition at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital under police guard.
Speaking on strict condition of anonymity, one man gave his version of what would have transpired around 7 pm on May 3.
He said, “We were sitting down, liming and drinking and same time the police pull up on the corner in an unmarked vehicle and three of them dressed in black jump out and just start to offload bullets. They never approached us to talk or nothing…they just opened fire.”
Asked to describe what the officers had been wearing, one man answered, “All black…with their Marvin Gaye hats.”
Claiming other officers had been stationed at strategic access routes leading into and out of the area in order to ensure the intended targets did not escape, the angry residents said the three victims were killed as a result of an ongoing turf war.
Naming two police officers from Western Division, another resident claimed they were related to people from other areas in Carenage who were at war with those living at Big Yard.
The resident added, “I don’t have no trust in the police at all. Plenty but not all of the police are deceitful because some of them riding with the criminals too.
“When they taking weed from man, they telling them to bring gun and they letting them go so they having extra gun…Even self they kill a man, they could put a gun on him.
“The police it have in Trinidad today not protecting and serving…is police who trying to help kill out their own black brothers.”
Demanding justice for the unlawful killings, the residents accused officers of not engaging in dialogue with them to find out what the problems in the community are and how they could be addressed.
In a bid to remain safe, residents of Big Yard advised people “To stay off the streets, stay away from them police eyesight.”
Relatives of the deceased described them as innocent people going about their business.
They claimed that Nelson had been on her way to purchase a meal for dinner and was shot in the back as she ran away from the scene of the shooting. Relatives said she died protecting her younger siblings who were accompanying her.
Police chased, taunted
Officers on patrol around 10 am yesterday were met with shouts of “Get out from here” and taunts of “You playing big now.”
Evidence of just how volatile the mood is at Big Yard was highlighted after officers in a patrol vehicle were approached by Nelson’s uncle who had been drinking.
Standing alongside the Transit Unit, the grieving man who had been venting to the lawmen tossed the glass bottle in a nearby drain. This prompted one of the officers to alight from the back seat with his service pistol in hand.
Shouting at Nelson’s uncle to move away as he stood facing the officer, onlookers witnessed the officer reach out and fire a slap to the side of his face before the man was pushed away.
As those present rushed to his aid, the uncle was led away whilst officers stationed lower down the street rushed to quell any outbreaks which could lead to violence.
Making an appeal to Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, one resident said, “Try and rearrange his service because I know how deceitful out here is and we living in a deceitful world. I want to let him know to clean up the place…clean up the police force. The police force is very nasty…it have plenty police dealing with all kinda people. They taking wuk from criminals to do other criminals thing.”
Carenage falls within the Diego Martin West constituency where the PM is the MP.
What the police say: Investigations are ongoing
In a release yesterday, the TTPS assured that investigations had started.
Officials said that preliminary investigations suggested that while officers were performing duties in carrying out an arrest, they were shot at, “with one of the police officers being shot in the chest area of his bulletproof vest. The police returned fire. Officers subsequently recovered two firearms at the scene”.
Extending condolences to the families of the victims, the TTPS promised to provided counselling for all involved—including the police officers—through the Victim and Witness Support Unit and the Employee Assistance Programme.
Police officer Ricardo Peltier was allegedly injured during the incident. While there were reports that another cop was injured, the TTPS did not release any information on this.
Referring to a similar shooting in Laventille several months ago in which officers reportedly came under fire from the suspects leading to one of the officers being shot in the chest, the TTPS said, “Had it not been for his bulletproof vest, the officer would have been killed. This is the danger police officers face daily, in carrying out their duties.”
They advised that while police officers would continue to be trained in the Minimum Use of Force policy, they are also trained to return fire if fired upon.
Residents deny victims had gun
Denying that any of the victims of the shooting had a gun in their possession, the families of the three alleged that they witnessed the shooters place a gun near the body of Eve as he lay on the ground.
A female relative said, “Ronaldo Sydney was going in the gate to by his grandmother and pick up a stray bullet. I was right there with my baby in my hand. The car just drive up and they didn’t even wait…as they step out the car, all you hear is shots.
“I stand up here and watching them let go shots even though my mother was trying to pull me down. I didn’t even know the little girl get shoot until I saw Keron dead on the ground.”
Hurting but relieved her children had been spared even though the seven-month-old suffered a scrape to the nose, the woman added, “It is not no bad boys but the same police who always driving up here and doing this.”
Calls and text messages to Police Commissioner Gary Griffith went unanswered yesterday.
PCA Director: File a complaint, we will investigate
Police Complaints Authority Director David West has called on residents to file a formal complaint with the authority so that investigations could commence.
He said, “I want to encourage residents who have a view on the shooting last night (Friday) to come into the PCA and make a complaint.
He also appealed to those with videos of the shooting to submit the footage to the PCA as he said, “All police shootings are investigated by the PCA and we will investigate once a complaint is made.”
Meanwhile, a senior source close to the investigation claimed this was not the first time that the name of one of the officers had surfaced in connection with such an incident. However, he admitted no evidence had ever been provided which could lead to the officer being charged and convicted.
Claiming he had been shot in a similar fashion two years ago, Jovel Caesar from Carenage pulled up his jersey to display the scars littering his stomach. He said, “I was waiting to get something in the shop. I went to Complaints (PCA) but nothing ever come out of that.”
A resident standing next to Caesar claimed, “The officer (name called) talk bout that in the station…he boast bout that. And he still say he want to come and shoot the same man he shoot the other day…this same man.”
Asked why they felt some of the young men living at Big Yard had become targets, the residents again claimed the fight for turf had led to this latest spate of gun violence.