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Sunday 15 September 2019
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[UPDATED] ELITE COPS KILL COUPLE

CoP defends SORT shooting in Santa Cruz

Rochyon King Ashterman.
Rochyon King Ashterman.

Even as relatives demand answers for the deaths of a couple, shot and killed by officers of the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) in Santa Cruz on Friday night, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith yesterday defended the actions of the members of the elite unit.

The family of Rochyon King Ashterman wants the truth about the circusmtances of how the 19-year-old graphic artist and his girlfriend Kristan Kerri Serries were killed while in a car. Ashterman, who lived in Arouca, is the son of radio DJ Rodney “Fireball” King. No information was available on Serries.

Ashterman’s mother Pauline called on Griffith to “come clean and say something”, concerned that her son’s death will be “covered up”.

“I want justice which is hard to get, you hearing too much cover up. My older daughter used to call him (Ashterman) every day and he would call his baby sister every night. I will be visiting the Police Complaint Authority but not on Monday because of the up and down with forensics,” Pauline said at her home on Belmont Valley Road, Belmont yesterday.

In a statement, Griffith defended his men and chastised those who he said conveniently see police commit wrongful acts but never the criminal elements.

“It is amazing that residents always have bionic eyes, when the police are defending their lives against imminent threats, but of the 340 plus persons killed this year, for some in that same area, with the same bionic eyes, they conveniently wear blinkers and see nothing nor do they seem to be concerned, because you never hear their voices when gang members kill innocent persons,” Griffith said.

In an earlier release, the police said SORT officers were conducting an exercise in Santa Cruz, when, around 9.25 pm, they had reason to stop a car with two occupants at La Canoa.

“When the SORT officers alighted from their vehicle to conduct a routine search, they were fired upon by the occupants of the vehicle, injuring one of the officers in the leg. In keeping with the use of force policy, police returned fire wounding the two occupants. The injured persons were taken to the Port of Spain General Hospital to seek medical attention, however, they were pronounced dead on arrival. The injured police officer was also taken to seek medical attention, he was treated and later discharged,” the release stated. Police report a loaded firearm and ammunition was found in the car. SORT is usually used for specialised operations and not for routine police exercises.

Santa Cruz residents claimed Ashterman had his hands out of the window when police opened fire on the white Honda City car he had been driving. The car belonged to Serries. The couple were on their way to buy burgers, residents told Sunday Newsday. A 62-year-old man identified only as “Iron” was shot in the back while liming at a bar. Earlier reports said he was warded at Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope.

In his statement Griffith, who celebrated his first anniversary as CoP on Friday, said the residents “need to find a new story to tell”. He stressed that an officer was also shot and “the pathetic excuses by these convenient sympathizers, in areas where police are fired upon and respond by returning fire to defend themselves, are boring now. What would they claim? Did the officer shoot himself to find an excuse to fire back? No! The officer was shot at. They tried to kill him. For those who refer to the victims as “innocent” people, this says a lot about these sympathizers’ character.”

He reiterated that officers have his full support and directive to do what is required to neutralize the threat if anyone fires at them. “Does the... Police Service need to be thankful that criminal elements fired first, and actually injured an officer and damage their vehicle to justify my officers returning fire? The answer is no.”

For Pauline her son’s death has also broken her faith in the police. She said she last spoke to her son on Thursday after he gave her a design for her business. Ashterman, known as “King”, would have turned 20 in November. He had saved $10,000 to buy his own car. Pauline said her son was the type to work hard for what he wanted and would go hungry to save money to put towards a car.

“He used to dabble in graphic designs on his own and two years ago he did a course at YTEPP. He was always an outgoing person, he liked to dress and look nice. I used to warn him about wearing a chain, a silver chain he dip in gold, but that was it. He never had a criminal record or was ever involved in anything.”

Pauline said her son has not been positively identified as she was not allowed to view the body only his driver’s permit. She said she was told that masked men dropped off her son at hospital and left. She said her son told her about Serries but she never met her.

“My message to parents is that we need as parents to take back our homes, we all have to be each other’s keeper,” she said.

This story has been updated to include additional details, it was first published under the headline

'Fireball's son shot dead by SORT, officers also kill woman'

THE man killed by police in La Canoa, Santa Cruz on Friday night has been identified as Rochyon King, the son of radio announcer and DJ, Rodney "Fireball" King.

Newsday spoke with one of King's relatives who said the 20-year-old went to get food when he and a yet to be identified woman were killed by officers of the Special Operations Response Team (SORT). Another man was shot but is in hospital. In a statement, the police said an officer was also injured, but has been treated and discharged.

According to the statement, SORT officers were conducting an exercise in Santa Cruz around 9.25 pm when they had reason to stop a vehicle with two occupants at La Canoa.

"When the SORT officers alighted from their vehicle to conduct a routine search, they were fired upon by the occupants of the vehicle, injuring one of the officers in the leg. In keeping with the use of force policy, police returned fire wounding the two occupants. The injured persons were taken to the Port of Spain General Hospital to seek medical attention, however, they were pronounced dead on arrival. The injured police officer was also taken to seek medical attention, he was treated and later discharged," the release stated. Police report a loaded firearm and ammunition was found in the car.

A 62-year-old man identified only as "Iron" was shot in the lower back while he limed at a bar nearby. Earlier reports said he was warded at Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope.

Residents told Newsday that King had visited friends and was on his way to get something to eat when the shooting took place. They claim he was unarmed and was shot after he surrendered when police stopped them.

A relative of King's said the graphic designer with Sign It was saving to buy his own car and recently collected his contribution to a sou sou.

"He have no criminal record, nothing. That car wasn't even his own, I don't know if police was marking the car but he borrow that car. Up to now the police ain't tell us what happened. We went on Friday night to identity him and we were told we have to come back on Monday," said the relative.

The relative added that officers of the North Eastern Division where the incident took place had no information on the shooting as it was a SORT matter.

North Eastern Division senior police confirmed that up to 11 am, on Saturday, they had not been informed about the shooting. SORT is an elite unit which answers directly to Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith. The unit was formed to gather intelligence and conduct covert operations. Griffith has hailed the success of the unit and said one of its goals is to minimise police leaks when special anti-crime operations are conducted. Each SORT member takes a polygraph test before joining the unit and undergoes continuous training.

This story has been updated to include additional details, it was first published under the headline 'SORT kills couple, injures limer in Santa Cruz'


A man and a woman have been killed, and another man injured, by members of the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) during a shooting in La Canoa, Santa Cruz on Friday night.

The couple were in a white Honda City car when they were shot. A 62-year-old man, who was liming at a bar, was shot in the back and is warded in hospital at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope

The SORT officers are yet to report what happened to investigators of the North Eastern Division, the police jurisdiction where the fatal shooing occurred at about 9 pm. The investigators said no firearms were in the car and only a magazine was found in an abandoned car near the scene of the shooting.

SORT is an elite unit which answers directly to Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith. The unit was formed to gather intelligence and conduct covert operations. Griffith has hailed the success of the unit and said one of its goals is to minimise police leaks when special anti-crime operations are conducted. Each SORT member takes a polygraph test before joining the unit and undergoes continuous training.

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