SHOCK and disgust were the prevailing reactions from the public, police and government ministers on Tuesday, after an early-morning raid at a rehabilitation facility in Arouca ended with the release of over 90 people registered as patients, and the arrest of six senior staff members.
Northern Division CID police and the Special Operations Response Team, led by Police Commissioner Gary Griffith and Deputy Commissioner (operations) Jayson Forde, went to the Transformed Life Ministry rehabilitation centre at Eastern Main Road at around midnight on Tuesday. There they found 90 people with 69 of them in cages or restrained with handcuffs.
Victim and Witness Support Unit and emergency health workers did preliminary medical assessments before taking them to the Arima hospital and the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex in three police buses.
An investigator said some of the people found in cages had drug-withdrawal symptoms such as pale skin, cold sweating and constant fidgeting. He said the pastor who was in charge of the facility, attempted to break the addiction by placing the people in cages.
The pastor, a close female relative and four others were in custody up until press time.
Police said most of those removed from the centre were Trinidadians, but there were a few from other territories.
"One of the biggest objectives we have right now is to try and identify these people. Most of them don't have any documentation, so we're reaching out to relatives to try and let them know what's happening."
Newsday spoke to relatives of one man who was released from the facility. They said they were unaware of the conditions inside, and they were referred by another facility in Barataria which operates directly under the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services.
"We were just told that it would be a good place for him (the relative) to get treatment for mental illness.
"We would pay $3,500 a month. We know that the pastor who runs the place would try and use a combination of medication and spiritual teaching to try and rehabilitate people with addictions and other problems, that's all."
One worker told Newsday, the fees varied but were generally between $3,500 to $4,000 a month.
National Security Minister Stuart Young, in a media release yesterday morning, expressed shock and concern over the findings after the raid.
He said Griffith called him at around 2 am and told him what was happening. Young then called Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh.
"I remind persons that this is an active and unfolding police investigation and I am certain the facts surrounding this disturbing situation will be uncovered," Young said.
At yesterday's weekly police press briefing, public information officer and acting Supt Wayne Mystar said the police action was based on intelligence. He lamented that senior officers in the northern division may have known about the conditions at the centre but did not act.
This, he said, has led to an internal investigation to determine if the officers were negligent.
Asked what the public should be aware of when looking at rehabilitation centres or elderly-care facilities, Mystar said the first point of contact should be the local police station. He urged the public to be vigilant of any suspected abuse.
"A lot of times the local police may be aware of certain things, so you can get into contact with them and see what their thoughts are on a particular facility where you are thinking of placing a loved one.
"You can also do general research to see if the place has proper accreditation."
Newsday was told most of the people were sent to the centre if they were not accepted for admission by the St Ann's Psychiatric Hospital.
Chief Medical Officer Roshan Parasram told Newsday people are admitted to St Ann's either through a court order or by a psychiatrist
''If they are to be admitted, they have to be examined by two psychiatrists. That's the standard operating procedure if they are brought in by a relative in an acute state.
''St Ann's normally takes in acute patients, meaning that they are unwell to the point that they can't manage in society."