Homeless man made to drink rum: 'I forgive the officers'

Newsday reporter Jensen La Vende listens as Dennis Moses recounts an incident that occurred on Sunday night. A video showing police and army officers making him follow their commands under duress on George Street, Port of Spain, went viral on Monday. Photo: Vidya Thurab
Newsday reporter Jensen La Vende listens as Dennis Moses recounts an incident that occurred on Sunday night. A video showing police and army officers making him follow their commands under duress on George Street, Port of Spain, went viral on Monday. Photo: Vidya Thurab

DENNIS MOSES – not the government minister, but the socially displaced man who was made to drink puncheon rum and do push-ups to amuse police and soldiers – says he forgives the lawmen.“Yeah, I forgive them. I went through worse than this," he said on Tuesday.

"God is a good God, and I don’t believe in unjust, so everybody deserve a chance. Nobody perfect. Everybody make a mistake. I leave everything in God hand. I didn’t come to fight no war.”

Moses, who turns 38 in July, said he is now a “John Doe,” having lost all his official documents when he was robbed while sleeping on the streets.

Months ago, he said, he was a security guard and lived in Morvant, but he was kicked out after a dispute with his landlord.

Since then he has been living on the street. His "home" is a vacant lot on George Street, a literal stone’s throw from where police and soldiers in a joint patrol stopped him and made him drink the rum, which is 75 per cent alcohol by volume.

Newsday found Moses, who was first identified by George Street residents as “Two Face,” sitting on a packed-up stall at the corners of George and Prince Streets. He is not fond of the alias, which was not explained.

Moses said he does not take drugs, and only smokes cigarettes. He said his rugged and weathered look is from “breaking dew,” as he sleeps in the day, because doing so at night is dangerous.

Asked about what happened on Sunday night, when the patrol abused him, he said the officers gave him a choice between jail, a fine or rum. He chose the rum.

“They (police and soldiers) say, 'Yuh have three options: is either the handcuffs, it have a $50 fine or it have a bottle of puncheon to drink here.'

"My option was to drink the puncheon, because I didn’t want to get lock up and I have no money for a fine. I doh like jail.

"I take the puncheon and I start to drink and then I do five push-ups and race the jeep, and then they tell me, 'Drop,' again, and then that was it.”

The “$50 fine" Moses referred to is actually a $50,000 fine for bars that disregard the Public Health Ordinance, which criminalises the opening of bars as the country adheres to social distancing in its fight against covid19. From midnight on Sunday, a stay-at-home policy was implemented which allows only essential workers to go to work.

The police do not have the power to arrest anyone found outside without a valid reason, but are allowed to persuade people to stay indoors or return indoors. Public gatherings of more than five people are now prohibited, outside of essential sectors.

Moses said he was aware there was “a curfew,” so when he saw the police he “drop on the ground.”

After the videos were recorded of Moses and another man being made to drink rum, Moses was recorded again, this time telling the person behind the camera that he wanted the rum and that the lawmen “is my boys and dem.”

Asked about this video, Moses said: “Sometimes in life you have to stoop to conquer. The officer was getting dey kicks. Probably I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Basically I will not say is advantage. Them was getting their kicks. The experience for me...I feel a kinda way.”

Asked if he had ever been treated like that in his life, Moses said no.

“I feel down inside I was not expecting it.

"I was not expecting all that drama too. I saw an officer in the back with a phone and taping it and laughing and making it a whole scene.

"I did not know it would have reached social media and all this drama.”

Since the recording of the patrol taunting him went viral on Monday, he said he has been getting support from strangers who pass and tell him of their displeasure at what happened to him. Some give him money.

“Some people telling me they don’t like what they do and they didn’t bound to move so with me. They say I already on the streets and struggling – they could have helped me. Not to say I was in somebody way. I didn’t look for that.”

Moses is still suffering the after-effects of his ill-treatment.

“I drink too much puncheon. I coulda drink a lil bit. I did not cater for all that puncheon. I vomit twice after. For two days I could not move. I get cramp up and thing. I could not move and thing."

The rum, he said, also caused a burning sensation in his testicles which he is still suffering.

Moses said he usually earns money by transporting goods for vendors, but with Charlotte Street shut down, one main source of income has dried up.

He is optimistic, though, saying, “It have things to find to do to make ends meet.”

In a media release on Monday in response to the video, Minister of Social Development Camille Robinson-Regis said “all citizens must be treated with dignity and compassion." She said the ministry remains committed to the provision of care and rehabilitation services during the "stay-at-home period" over the next two weeks. Her ministry is urging street dwellers to seek shelter at the Centre for Socially Displaced Persons at Riverside Plaza and Court Shamrock in San Fernando.

Also on Monday, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith said while the incident is an isolated one, he will “ensure that those officers no longer wear a TTPS uniform.”

On Tuesday Griffith said he would not comment on the matter, as it is being investigated. He did not say if the officers responsible had been identified, after saying on Monday that he would use GPS and CCTV footage to track them down.

Dennis Moses demonstrates how other street dwellers dived to hide from police and army officers when they saw the patrol coming up George Street on Sunday night.
Photo: Vidya Thurab

Moses said he does not want the officers to be treated harshly.

“I don’t want to wish bad for nobody. At the end of the day everybody have to live. Despite the situation I in, everybody deserve a chance in life.

"If they could compensate me, I could do with a lil compensation.”

Asked what would be fitting compensation, Moses could not say, but commented that he just wants “a start in life.”

He stressed again, “I don’t want nobody penalised and loss dey wuk.”

His advice to the officers who tormented him and to the country was: “In life you face things you were not expecting to face, and in spite what, you have to thank God for life.

"It could have been worse.

"God is a forgiving God. We just have to pray and keep strong and ask God to forgive and not try to abuse our powers.”


"Homeless man made to drink rum: ‘I forgive the officers’"

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