Six police officers who are awaiting trial for murder have been served with a notice from the police service to either resign or be fired in the public's interest.
One of the officers is challenging the move and has filed legal action seeking to stop the process from moving forward as well as monetary compensation.
Police officers have questioned the police service's apparent disregard of due process and the fundamental right of being presumed to be innocent until proven guilty .
But without referring to the specific case, Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, on Friday, said he was seeking to clean up the police service and improve its image.
He added that it is unacceptable to have police officers charged with violent crimes such as murder and rape and still be in the police service. Without pushing the envelope, he said, changes will not be made in the police service. He added that firing officers charged with violent crimes will send a message to rogue officers who currently think that they will be paid officers while their matters linger on in courts.
In a media briefing on May 18, Griffith said $50 million is spent annually on some 300 suspended officers.
He said then: “For the average citizen in this country in any business in the private sector if you are in prison for a violent crime you will be fired. Not in Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, they say no! A police officer leave him and let him get his pay. So we have $50 million per annum taxpayers are paying for the police out there on disciplinary matters. I have a problem with that."
In a WhatsApp response, Head Legal of the police service, Christian Chandler said tribunals "are being mobilised" so hearings will start soon.
"For far too long police officers have been on suspension without a hearing and their lives and careers left in abeyance whilst they continue to be paid at the expense of taxpayers. The consequence of which is that, the police service’s actual strength is diametrically opposed to that which is reflected by the records, much to the disadvantage of the organisation and the CoP."
Chandler added: "As Head of Legal I have been mandated to address all matters within the TTPS, which is an amalgamation of issues not limited in nature, and which are all encompassing and underpinned in the law. It is a challenge that I have gladly accepted, with the sole intention of endeavouring to improve the TTPS for our country and the members of the organisation. This would require change, sometimes even drastic change, whether in organizational culture, structure or transformation. We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result, that is simply insanity. Change is here and for those who are resistant to it, they have no place in the TTPS of today as yesteryear is long gone."
In the instant case, PC Safraz Juman, who has been on suspension since December 2017, said he was served with a notice from the top cop on March 16, titled “Dismissal or Retirement of Safraz Juman from the TT Police Service.”
The letter begins with: “I refer to the matter at caption to inform you of my contemplation to dismiss you or require you to retire from the TT Police Service. The TTPS records reflect that you have been on suspension since December 17, 2014.”
Juman is one of six policemen who on July 15, 2013 were committed to stand trial for the murders of Abigail Johnson, Alana Duncan and Kerron “Fingers” Eccles. The trio were shot dead during an encounter with police at the corner of Poui and Gunness Trace in Barrackpore on July 22, 2011. Juman was last assigned to the Southern Division CID’s Operations Unit.
In his letter to Juman, Griffith referred to Section 123 A of the Constitution which gave him the power to remove and discipline police officers. He added that this power bestowed on him is wielded in tandem with the Police Service Regulations which states that the Commissioner can dismiss an officer on the grounds of reported inefficiency and poor performance and or performance appraisal.
The three-page letter added that Section 3(1) and (2) of the regulations allows for Griffith to ask for the resignation of an officer if doing so is in the public’s interest. Griffith added that he can ask for a report from Juman’s seniors and after reviewing it along with hearing Juman’s side, once satisfied that his early retirement is in the public’s interest, he can request it.
The letter states: “Having regard to the authority given to me by the Constitution in conjunction with those within the regulations, I seek to invoke my power to dismiss you or require you to retire from the TTPS. I am of the utmost belief that it is in the public interest to dismiss you or require your retirement from the TTPS as you have been consistently paid, though you have been inactive member of the TTPS for an excess of five years pending trial of the charges that have been laid against you.”
In added that the TTPS is burdened to pay police officers with the limited resources it possess. He stated that it is in the public’s best interest for him to properly “allocate its resources to active TTPS officers and other areas of need.”
Griffith told Juman that if he found the retirement request unsuitable, he is reminded that the circumstance resulting in his suspension (charged with murder), must be fully ventilated in court “which cannot be suitably dealt with under any of the regulations” and therefore was out of Griffith’s hands. He then reiterated that in best interest of the public and with limited resources he must act. He gave Juman seven days to respond to the letter.
Juman, through his attorneys, Israel Khan SC and Ulric Skerritt filed for judicial review on May 8, seven days after Juman was served the letter. The matter will be heard on June 24.
Juman is seeking eight orders from the court, among them are damages yet to be assessed, cost of legal fees, anything else that the courts may want to add, four declarations and an order stopping Griffith from issuing him any dismissal notice or letter.
The declarations being sought are: the decision to dismiss Juman amount to an abuse of power is unreasonable, irregular and improper exercise of his discretion; the request to retire is outside of the power of the CoP; that the CoP took irrelevant factors into consideration in coming to his conclusion and Juman’s dismissal will be a breach of his constitutional right for due process before he is dismissed.
The attorneys submitted that on May 1, Juman was escorted from his cell at the Maximum Security Prison and taken to an office where he met Assistant Commissioner of Police Anthony James and served the ultimatum. They added that Juman was never given notice in relation to the performance of his duties and was never under disciplinary actions for the offences which he was charged that triggered his suspension. Sunday Newsday was informed that all of Juman's co-accused were also served with the letter but only he sued.
In their judicial review application the attorney also cited provisions of the Constitution saying that citizens are afforded the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise and public officers cannot be dismissed unless at the end of disciplinary proceedings not in their favour. Section 129 (4) of the Constitution they submitted, mandates that public servants can only be dismissed of face penalties as a result of disciplinary proceedings. The attorneys submitted that no such proceedings have been initiated far less for being completed against Juman. The attorneys added that only after an officer is found to have been performing poorly based on their performance appraisals, which Juman said he is yet to receive for the past five years, can he be dismissed.