A startling new development has emerged during a Sunday Newsday investigation into the June 27 fatal police shootings in Morvant.
It has the potential to reopen an eerily similar case from 11 years ago.
Investigators have already secured critical information from a witness which they intend to verify as they look into a police-related killing on October 1, 2009, near the Church on the Rock at Second Caledonia.
In that incident, three men were shot dead by officers assigned to the North Eastern Divisional Task Force. Miraculously, another man survived without a scratch.
The survivor, Codi Alves, claimed in an interview in December 2009 that his friends (Joel Romain, Kerwin “Lall” Joseph, and Akee Caballero) were killed unjustly, and he only survived by pretending to be dead.
After that Guardian report, acting commissioner of police James Philbert made a public appeal for Alves to come forward to tell his story, but he never did.
Contacted last week, Philbert recalled the case, in which “a man came alive in the morgue,” and said it was not too late for Alves to give a statement.
Fast-forward to June 27 this year. Hours after PC Allen Moseley was shot dead, police shot and killed three men – Joel Jacobs, Noel Diamond and Israel Clinton – at Juman Drive, Second Caledonia.
Moments later, officers identified one of the victims as Alves.
The shootings were caught on several home security cameras. Footage from at least two has been leaked on social media, and appears to contradict the police account of what may have happened.
The video footage revived allegations of police misconduct which has gone unchecked or ignored in depressed communities such Beetham, Laventille, Morvant, Sea Lots, east Port of Spain and other areas. Hundreds of people took to the streets for two consecutive days after the killings, demanding justice.
Police responded with tear gas, gunfire and swinging batons in some cases and used moral suasion in others. Residents of Beetham claimed Ornella Greaves was killed by a bullet from a police gun during a protest there, but Police Commissioner Gary Griffith said it could have come from protesters who were shooting at the police.
An investigation will determine what happened in Greaves’s case. A video released on social media might provide evidence to help solve it.
Police said the June 27 incident involved a team of ten police officers assigned to the Inter-Agency Task Force, some of whom had previously worked under the North Eastern Division Task Force, along with officers of the Guard and Emergency Branch. They were responding to a report that armed men were travelling in a brown Nissan Tiida (other accounts described it as gold). A total of 18 officers were involved, the police said later in a media release.
The police report said the police team saw the Tiida near the Auto Guru building and intercepted it on Juman Drive.
The police said there were three men in the car and a man in the back seat got out, looked towards the approaching officers, quickly got back in, reached for a gun and aimed at them.
In response, several officers fired, hitting the three men. Police said they found a loaded pistol in the back seat.
This account differs from the security footage that appears to show a man emerging from the back seat with both hands in the air and the driver, also with hands in the air, apparently being questioned by police.
One video appears to show that as the right back window of the car was lowered, the men were shot multiple times. A second video appears to show police dragging two limp bodies from the car, as well as another man who was slumped behind the Tiida.
Police confidently told the media that one of the men was Alves.
But when Newsday reported his name online, Alves contacted the newspaper to correct the story.
It renewed Alves’ fear that the police wanted him dead – a second time.
Sunday Newsday tried to unravel why police had identified Alves as one of the victims.
Investigations revealed that an inquest into the deaths of the three men killed by police in 2009 is scheduled to come up for hearing on August 13.
Alves had never before given a statement to the police – but it was still possible for him to come forward as a witness at the inquest.
Alves subsequently contacted his attorney, Richard Clarke-Wills, for advice and went into hiding.
On Friday, after speaking with Sunday Newsday and his attorney, Alves agreed to give a statement to the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), which will be sent to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for advice.
His lawyer, Clarke-Wills, said in an interview that when he heard his client’s account of the events of 2009, he was “staggered at not just the brutality, but how cold and callous” those involved were.
The lawyer also said the “inflammatory” language of the present CoP and his “one shot, one kill” policy has emboldened police as they go about their work.
Last Monday, the PCA formally advised Griffith that the officers present at the Morvant shootings should be suspended, agreeing with the position taken by the Law Association. The CoP first said this was “illogical,” since not all had used their weapons.
On Tuesday, he said the seven officers who had fired their guns were being sent on administrative leave on full pay, pending the outcome of separate investigations by the PCA – an independent body – and the police Professional Standards Bureau.
The other officers have been assigned to desk duty in an attempt to ensure that investigations are not compromised by officers directly linked to the shootings.