GREENVALE resident PC Thaddeus Caraballo, a Hummingbird Medal (Bronze) awardee for bravery and gallantry, who led an evacuation effort on Sunday in his community owing to flooding, has taken the first step in bringing a defamation claim against the Housing Development Corporation (HDC).
Caraballo is also alleging victimisation for having spoken up.
Attorneys for Caraballo wrote to HDC chairman Noel Garcia on Wednesday putting him on notice of the proposed legal action.
In the pre-action protocol letter, attorney Robert Abdool-Mitchell said on Sunday, Caraballo, who has lived at Greenvale Park for the last four years, left the La Horquetta Police Station, where he is posted, and went to the development because it was raining heavily.
“Being aware that the area, especially the Greenvale Park housing community, was prone to flooding, he left the La Horquetta police station to proceed to Greenvale Park to see if assistance was required.
“Having left the police station, it became clear to our client that most of the roads in the La Horquetta area were almost impassable.
“When our client eventually arrived at Greenvale Park, he noticed that most of the roads within the community were flooded and that the water was high and rising quickly. There was water around many of the houses and residents were panicking and evacuating their homes. He immediately became fearful that this was a repeat of 2018,” Abdool-Mitchell said.
In 2018, Caraballo assisted in rescuing residents after flood waters rose in the Greenvale Development Park and was hailed a hero when he swam in raging waters to save a couple holding on to a utility pole, screaming for help. He also saved two men from drowning. He received the national award for his efforts.
The attorney said when Caraballo went to Greenvale on Sunday, he saw residents taking the evacuation route prescribed by the HDC but realised that it was one of the areas most affecting by the flooding so those heading there were “heading to even more danger.”
“Our client, realising the obvious danger, decided that he was duty-bound to prevent disaster. He therefore contacted his other mobile unit and the division’s operations centre for assistance via phone.
“It was, however, proving to be difficult as all other officers and police vehicles were already engaged in efforts to assist residents. Further, residents’ vehicles were being trapped by the rising flood waters along the route prescribed by HDC.
Therefore, our client decided to utilise his Facebook page, since most of the residents followed his page,” the letter said.
It added that Caraballo started the live video to guide people out of the development using the “best and safest possible route,” not the HDC prescribed route.
It added that he also assisted a family, consisting of a newborn baby, and a wheelchair-bound man, out of their home since water was entering it.
“Another police unit who eventually arrived on the scene also transferred the wife of a fireman and national awardee to the hospital as water entered their home and she suffered an anxiety attack.
“Our client brought normalcy and calm to a frantic and traumatic time for many. Most of the residents were screaming in horror having flashbacks of the 2018 flood. Thankfully the rain stopped and the water receded quickly and the residents could have returned home. Our client thereafter continued to carry out his duty in his wet uniform until the next morning,” the letter said.
Abdool-Mitchell said it was with “great surprise” to Caraballo that shortly after his live video, the HDC issued two releases that said the videos were fake and there was no flooding or evacuation at the housing development.
“Our client was thereafter bombarded with insults and other disparaging comments on social media, many persons calling him a liar and attacking his integrity. Our client felt disappointed and confused, as he was telling the truth and only did so in order to ensure persons did not lose their lives as a result of HDC’s clearly flawed evacuation route.
“Later that day, he therefore did another live video on his Facebook page in order to set the record straight to protect both his own personal integrity and also that of the TTPS,” he added.
The attorney also said Caraballo received a call the next day from someone associated with the constituency executive warning him to “back off HDC or they will demonise you.”
He was told to stop trying to make the HDC look bad and was also told to consider his job.
“Our client believes that this phone call was highly inappropriate and perhaps even unlawful as it amounted to a politician ordering a member of the TTPS to ignore the truth and to lie in order to protect HDC and the Government,” the attorney said, adding that it appears to be an attempt to suppress information.
“Our client politely refused to suppress the truth. As a police officer, he maintains a high degree of political impartiality and neutrality in accordance with the Standing Orders of the police service,” the letter said.
He was also, within a couple of hours of getting the phone call, transferred to the Cumuto police station.
“Our client was astonished by this development and broke down in tears, knowing that he worked so hard and risked his life in the La Horquetta area, bringing change that was not seen for over 30 years. Now, because he wanted to fulfil his duty as a police officer and save lives, he was being hounded and persecuted.
“Our client therefore feels very hurt and emotionally wrecked that his good name could be so easily tarnished,” the letter added.
Caraballo intends to seek compensation for defamation on the grounds that the HDC “deliberately and malevolently condemned” him as a liar and a police officer who lacked integrity, the attempt to suppress the information and being treated like a thug for posting the truth.
The pre-action letter was also copied to the Commissioner of Police for an immediate investigation to determine if political interference was involved in his transfer.
The letter also asked for an immediate and unqualified apology from the HDC and for the allegations made against him withdrawn; for the corporation not to publish any further defamatory statements about Caraballo and admit liability for defamation and agree to have the quantum assessed by the court.