Was there a cover-up in 2009 police killing?

File photo by Lincoln Holder
File photo by Lincoln Holder

INVESTIGATORS assigned to probe the frightening allegations made by a witness to a 2009 incident intend to consult with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions within 24 hours on whether the information is enough to open a murder probe.

Three men were killed by police in the incident.

If the matter takes that course, it will also open another investigation into whether a significant number of police officers who gave statements and investigated the 2009 shootings might have tried to cover up the truth and send the matter for an inquest.

Police recorded an interview with the witness, Codi Alves, on October 4, 2009, three days after police shot and killed three of his friends – Joel Romain, 19, a former junior national sprinter, Kerwyn “Lall” Joseph, 24, and Akee Caballero, 32.

Alves also told his story to the media at the time.

He claimed a police jeep had followed the car, driven by Caballero, from Maloney to San Juan, and police started shooting without warning as they swung into Second Caledonia.

His unsigned statement to police alleged: “We just passed normal, going down the main road, until we reach the junction hill in Morvant and swing up the hill.

“While going up the hill, I heard loud explosions like shots – is more than one, and plus yuh hear it hitting the car. It was rapid shots. Like more than six shots.

“The driver like he extend on he speed, because like the car start to move faster, and I bow down meh head inside the car behind the driver’s seat. The driver crash and I was unconscious after that.”

Alves denied that he had any guns, and said no one in the car had fired at the police.

Alves: I played dead to stay alive

During his interview in 2009, Alves said he played dead as police repeatedly shot his unarmed friends in the car.

The Police Complaints Authority is also investigating allegations that the police taking those four victims to the Port of Spain General Hospital stopped near the Lady Young lookout after they noticed one of the men still breathing, dragged him out of the jeep and shot him twice in the head.

They are also investigating allegations that police tried to kill Alves when he sprang up in the Port of Spain mortuary, but they stopped when doctors and nurses there protested.

Alves was later charged with possession of two firearms and shooting at the police. The case was eventually dismissed in the magistrates court, as the investigating officer repeatedly failed to attend hearings, according to court records.

A story published in the Sunday Newsday linked the 2009 incident to a police-related shooting on June 27 this year, in Second Caledonia, Morvant, in which three men were killed.

Police officers present during the June 2020 killings initially said one of the men killed was Alves.

In fact, the victims on that occasion were Joel Jacobs, who was celebrating his birthday that day, Noel Diamond and driver Israel Clinton.

Only Clinton had prior criminal charges. He had charges pending for possession of three rounds of ammunition and a money counter.

He intended to file a complaint with the police Professional Standards Bureau about the alleged theft of $60,000 and US$2,900 during a police raid. He had also filed a case against the State for alleged police brutality in a separate incident.

Video footage of the June 27 incident appears to differ from the police account.

The PCA is investigating whether there is a link between the two events and whether officers assigned to North Eastern Divisional Task Forces were also involved in the June 27 incident. Another possible connection being probed is whether the August 13 hearing of the inquest into the deaths of the three men killed in 2009 had any connection to the June 27 incident.

An official report on the June 27 shootings says 18 officers assigned to the Inter-Agency Task Force and the Guard and Emergency Branch were responding to a report that armed men were travelling in a car in Morvant, and intercepted it. They said there were three men in the car and a man in the back seat got out, looked towards the approaching officers, got back in, reached for a gun and aimed at them.

Several officers then fired, hitting the three men. Police said they found a loaded pistol in the back seat.

Video footage shared on social media appears to show a man emerging from the back seat of the car with both hands in the air and the driver, also with both hands up, apparently being questioned by police.

One video appears to show that as the right back window was lowered, the men were shot multiple times. The man who got out appears to have been shot behind the car.

Crime reporter: Alves story believable

Newsday contacted crime reporter Francis Joseph, the journalist who interviewed Alves in December 2009. Joseph said the Newsday story jogged his memory of the events of 11 years ago.

Now the manager of the corporate communications unit of the police service, Joseph recalled that a lawyer had contacted him in 2009 and told him about a survivor of a police shooting who wanted to tell his story.

He said Alves came to the Guardian newspaper office and was interviewed. On the basis of the interview, which was published on December 3, 2009, acting Commissioner of Police James Philbert appealed for the witness to give a statement to help investigators.

Joseph said the witness told him then he intended to give a statement, but he never followed up on whether that happened.

“I never talked to him after that. I don’t know if he did (give a statement). Is only now when you (Newsday) bring it back I remember the matter.”

Joseph, a veteran crime reporter, was asked for his assessment of Alves’ statements and whether they were plausible. He said, “Put it this way: his story was believable.

"I don’t think a man could make up that. He really has to have a really good memory to make up that and I don’t think he did that.”

Police statements on the 2009 incident say officers assigned to the North Eastern Divisional Task Force who were on patrol switched on their siren and swivel lights behind a white B-14 car. It had reportedly been used in a murder in the Arima district earlier that night.

An anonymous tip-off had said the car was carrying two members of the G-Unit gang, one of whom was identified as Kerron “Lall” Joseph, and was coming from Maloney. Kerron Joseph had been identified as a suspect in 20 murders.

The anonymous tip described the men as “heavily armed.” Another report claimed the police found three guns in the car.

Police records from 2009 said the officers intercepted the car in Second Caledonia around 11 pm, there was a shootout and the injured men were taken to hospital.

The initial investigation stated that then head of the North Eastern Divisional Task Force Sgt Roger Alexander was assigned to investigate.

Alexander is now an assistant superintendent of police and host of the police Beyond the Tape television programme.

Newsday contacted him for comment on the developments suggesting a link between the 2009 case and those of last month.

He asked for the newspaper to call him back, but subsequent calls were not answered. There has as yet been no response to text and WhatsApp messages sent to his cellphone.


"Was there a cover-up in 2009 police killing?"

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