Interview with ASP Richard Smith, former investigator

Smith: I was working Port of Spain at the time. Officer Sherman Maynard passed out in 2013, when I first went to the Port of Spain Division. I was attached to the Belmont Police Station as the inspector in charge and he was placed under my care. He and about six other officers were placed there, so his first assignment was with me.

During the period that I worked with him, he was always a professional officer. Always willing, dedicated, everything.

When the time came, after a few months, we were looking for people to put in the operations unit. They were based at the St Clair Police Station at the time.

Insp Alexander, who is in Central Division now, was in charge of the operations unit at the time, and I was the supervisor for the team, so I transferred Maynard to the unit because of his performance.

I remember that morning he had just finished in court and they were short one man to go and do the guard at the prison. At that time we had guards posted outside the prison because we had information of an impending activity: some threat to either bomb the prison or some people might escape, so we had a joint static at the prison.

How many people did that patrol consist of?

We had two police officers and people from the Emergency Response Unit of the Prison Service.

We were expecting something from the outside to come to the inside, when the threat really came from the inside out. So that is where it happened.

The shot Maynard got was in his leg, but it hit a main artery and he bled out and died.

I was outside the hospital at the time. I had my team to secure the area. The shootout had already happened with Scanny, so we were securing the perimeter.

We expanded the perimeter: from the hospital we went outwards and searched the area. All available resources were put in place for that operation.

We knew (Maynard) was being attended to by the doctors, we knew he was shot in the leg, and we all just thought that everything would be all right. But then a few minutes after we learned that he didn’t make it.

So everyone, including myself, was in tears but we were outside, so we had to stand up strong. It was sad, because I knew him personally. I knew his father from south: his father reached to the rank of Supt in south (now retired).

It really broke our hearts because I was his supervisor in Belmont and I came up under his father, so it’s a special kind of bond. Not that it’s favouritism, but I knew the family. I knew (him) when he was young, before he even joined the service I knew him.

One of the things I wanted to know is, when you see something like that, someone you know dead, and yet you still maintain that posture – how hard is it?

We were out there long (his voice breaks). It was someone I knew personally. It was really tough. Whether or not it’s someone you knew, it was a police officer who fell in the line of duty.

At the end of the day we had to make sure the job was done. We couldn’t leave these people outside roaming the streets in their bid to escape.

Knowing it was Scanny who killed Maynard, that he could do this, and he is dead (and) the others –  Hassan Atwell or Christopher Selby –  they were capable of anything, at any point, were you at all or any of your subordinates afraid that something that happened to Maynard could just as easily happen to one of you?

At that time I don’t think anyone was afraid. I wasn’t afraid, I was more angry. I was hurt. I wanted to find these fellas as fast as possible to stop them from harming anybody else.

We had all of our resources outside and liaising as far down as different divisions because we know Hassan Atwell was from south. I had some interaction with him in the Southern Division. I knew him personally, because we dealt with him in the past for different offences.

He was a serious one. I know he had some military training. It was rumoured he went to one of those Middle Eastern countries and got training. He was a serious threat. I knew him and what he was capable of, so we had people as far as the Southern Division, where he was from, looking out.

When night fell and you still didn’t find them, was there any kind of panic or concern over you might be out here for weeks?

We are prepared, as police officers, to go beyond the call of duty any time or day. We have shift systems, but everyone was sensitised to what our goals were and what outcome we wanted.

We had to lock down certain areas, so we had a grid set up in Port of Spain to lock down in the event he was still in the city.

We had our intelligence people working, with informants tracking to get information to call us whenever he showed up. We were getting a lot of information.

Up to the Saturday morning after the escape, I was at home and I was called out. I led an operation in Gonzales, where we searched some apartment buildings. We didn’t find anyone, but we heard he was hiding out in an apartment there. We searched over 60-something apartments, every single one, whether the tenants were home or not.

We caused some damage, but I went back in full uniform and repaired 13 doors and replaced more than 13 locks. Remember the area of Gonzales: if you leave these people’s place open, someone will come and thief or cause them harm, so I made sure that same day I went back with about three or four other officers and fixed the doors and replaced the locks.

Was that required, or did you do that as a personal gesture?

Normally some officers wouldn’t do it, but I was looking at the bigger picture. We can’t just run through a community like that when the people didn’t even do anything.

We understand we are looking for an escaped fugitive, so the information is that he was staying at one of those places. Not everyone was harbouring him, and we are trying to build a relationship with the residents, so we can’t just destroy their property. We didn’t want to break down relations with the residents.

It was out of the goodness of my heart too, because it’s people. So after fixing the locks, I spoke to HDC to replace the doors and they did that within the week.

I was on duty the night when Hassan’s body was found.

How long after the escape was he found?

About a week, a week and a half (later) he was found dead. I was in Besson Street. I was somewhere in the division.

I remember I just came from getting something to eat and I got a call that a body was found just off of Park Street, passing Charlotte Street, up the hill.

I didn’t know who it was at the time, but when I got there I looked at the body and recognised him. He was riddled with bullets.

What was the theory behind why he was killed?

The leading theory was that he went to the Rasta City gang for help hiding him. That area is their territory, and he is a Muslim, so he was out of place, out of zone.

They probably also tried to extort money out of him too, because they believe he could access that and if he couldn’t give them, they dealt with him.

Christopher Selby was the only man to survive the escape. He might be the only person to know exactly what happened. Long story short: he isn’t coming out anytime soon.

I don’t know if they charged him for the murder of Maynard, because remember, they acted together.

Was he really a part of the planning stage? Some believe he was just there (and) happened to see an opportunity to escape and he took it.

That wouldn’t work like that. He wouldn’t just see two guys running and go with them. Why didn’t others leave too?

I didn’t get too deep into the investigation thereafter, because there was a first-division officer assigned for that investigation, who was acting ASP Noel, and he retired subsequent to that, and I don’t know who took over it.

Would it be Homicide?

Homicide might be dealing with the shooting aspect, but I don’t know if they broke it up so that different investigators deal with different aspects of the escape. But I feel that one person should deal with the entire incident.

There were some rumblings that something would happen. How far back did you all hear of a plot?

We had information probably about a month or two before.

The talk on the ground was that they wanted to break Rajaee Ali out, but for some reason it was Scanny and these others. Was this true?

We knew they were planning something, we just don’t know who it was for. I don’t think Rajaee was ever in Remand Yard, I think he was always at MSP in Arouca.

We had information that the threat was coming from outside and not so much from the inside. We expected the prison officers would be able to control or contain most of what was taking place on the inside.

We didn’t expect this thing to happen, where men was coming from the inside. So we had men on the outside to deal with an external threat.

Did you all place any additional observation on the Jamaat?

We will always have eyes and ears open for anything that happens, but I don’t think we placed any additional resources down there. We didn’t have to do that. Our intel was taking us in different directions.

This was a very special case to you in more ways than one. You knew him coming up.

What stood out to you the most about this investigation? Was there anything strange that you haven’t seen anywhere else before?

 The strangest thing is how these men were able to get these firearms and a grenade in the prison. That’s the strangest thing to me.

It seems like we are fighting against ourselves now, because prisons, army, police, all security agencies, we’re supposed to be one. And when you allow yourself to be taken in or be so corrupted to take in firearms, ammunition, a grenade, narcotics, to inmates who could in turn do harm to you, your fellow officers or a member of the public out there, it’s difficult to come to terms with that: the price that a man would put on another person’s life.

This is what is so troubling in all this. An innocent officer’s life was taken. But perhaps God meant it to happen in such a way that things could change, people could see what’s going on.

He (Maynard) shouldn’t have died in vain. Something must come out of this.

There are still people (throwing) things over the prison wall. There are still people carrying stuff for prisoners inside. This is wrong, because prisoners are living like kings and queens inside there. The people who have the money and influence can afford to live like that in there, and it’s still happening.

We know there is corruption on the outside, but to have that level of corruption on the inside, to take in these things, it’s sad.

I know in some instances some people are forced to do it because of threats but if they didn’t start carrying in, the inmates wouldn’t be able to force you.

I’m not sure if you might be able to answer this, but did the police service put any kind of pressure on the prison service to give them more answers or details on what happened?

I’m not sure if the investigator went in that direction to get it. I know there was a little strain on the relationship in some instances with the prison officers, but we had to rise above that and look at the bigger picture.

I used to be in meetings with different agencies, the prison officers included, and we had a nice thing going.

Even after that we formed a team in Port of Spain to look at evacuation and contingency plans. how we could prepare for natural disasters with prisons in the middle of the city. I was transferred to Central Division in late 2016 when this was taking place, so I don’t know what became of all these plans.

We know we have corrupted persons on either side, police and prisons, but you must know what you’re about.

Would you say for a period after the breakout there was a rift or a fracture between the police and prison services?

I wouldn’t say that. There would be some suspicions, and people would have their own personal grievances, but life had to go on.

We didn’t trivialise Maynard’s death, but we looked at the bigger picture.

We had to convey prisoners from the prison, we had to interact with prison officers on a daily basis. We couldn’t shut down the system because of that. So we had to be professional at any cost.

We didn’t keep our minds on that, so despite what we as police officers have to be resilient at all times, even though we were in tears and in pain, we had to come out and do what we were supposed to do.

The prison officers who were on duty at the time, do you know where they are now?

I’m not sure how they dealt with them. All might not have been involved. Even the shift that was working at the time, they may not have necessarily been involved, because sometimes things could have been set up by another shift and they were away the actual day the escape took place, so they might not have been there.

So to say this entire shift was transferred, they would have had their internal investigations which would have revealed certain things I wasn’t privy to…so I’m not in a position to say whether they were transferred or not.

It’s been four years now. Some of them would have had to retire if they reached the age and others would have been transferred to have regular shake-ups to avoid building relationships with prisoners.

Did you go to Maynard’s funeral?

Of course. The funeral was right across the road from here.

Whenever someone dies, we have the days where things would be kind of surreal. Dealing with Maynard’s father, it was a lot for him to take in. He really loved his son, his children. He would always talk about them. Sometimes if we were in the area and happened to be passing through, we would stop in and talk to them.

Maynard has another brother who works as a police officer in the North Eastern Division and Sherman was the last one to join.

There was a lot of his batch that cried.

I don’t know how far he would have gone in the service, but he really loved it. I used to mentor him, too. We used to have discussions, and I could have seen him going very far. He was brilliant. He used to follow instructions, courteous, tall, neat in uniform –  he was everything you would expect from an officer.

From then to now, how do you look at recruits now? Do you advise them differently after Sherman’s passing?

I have been in the police service 31 years, March gone there. I have had a lot of experiences, I was on the front line and even as a senior officer now I still go out there, because I go out there in Central Division.

What I always do in all briefings and every opportunity I get to talk to young officers, I talk to them about safety. I tell them don’t take anything for granted, don’t be lapsing.

I’m also in charge of the Lion’s Gate Project in Enterprise, and some of the officers I got to work on that unit are officers who came straight from the academy.

We got 40 officers in 2017 straight out of the academy into Enterprise, so it’s babies I have here, and as the father of the babies, I must talk to them and I continue to talk to them on a regular basis. I let them know about all these things and more.

I always urge them to be each other’s keeper. Not in any clandestine way. but being each other’s keeper in a good way.

If you don’t see an officer come to work one day, call him. Sometimes he might not even have money to call and something might be wrong with him.

There was one instance when I was in charge of the task force in south, this officer Clement, I was senior in rank to him. He wasn’t well the night before, and some of the team members took him to the hospital and dropped him home afterwards. Nobody checked on him after. When his daughter got home 5 o clock in the evening he was dead. Nobody chose to call or even swing by his house and that was a lesson I learned.

Based on what happened to Maynard, we must be ever vigilant. If you are expecting something from happening on the inside or vice versa, look at everything.

Was there any point in the case while you were investigating it you were really frustrated?

My point of frustration was just trying to get the remaining two men, Hassan Atwell and Christopher Selby, off of the streets.

Even after Maynard’s death we knew there was some panic on the outside. So we just tried to calm down the area. We wanted to bring this situation to a closure.

 From then to now. as far as security at the remand yard is concerned, have there been any improvements?

We had some suggestions we made to them, because you keep seeing people throwing things over the wall. We suggested the static patrols and even building towers so that men could go up and see what was going on around the prison.

I don’t know if anything different was done, but I believe we ought to learn from our mistakes so there should be systems in place to avoid the same thing from happening.

Only crazy people would do the same thing over and over again expecting different results, and I doubt there are crazy people in the prison service.

Is there anything you would like to add?

The fact that everybody must look within themselves.

A life was lost and these men escaped from prison. It can’t be a system where people are intent on breaking the law. When you give these criminals a bullet, they have no allegiance to you. As long as they get what they want, they have no allegiance to you.

They care about making themselves happy, so look within yourself and decide what you are. Are you a police or a bandit, or a prison officer or a bandit?

Choose your side and walk.


"Interview with ASP Richard Smith, former investigator"

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