Police triple killing in Morvant unites fractured community
The pain, anger and cry for justice are still raw in the community of Second Caledonia, in Morvant a year after police shot and killed three men who relatives and residents said were on their way to buy a bottle of rum for a birthday celebration.
The incident, which was captured on CCTV cameras, ignited a wave of outrage across several communities for three days as protesters lit bonfires, blocked roads and clashed with police in East Port of Spain, Beetham Gardens, Sea Lots, Cocorite, Maraval, Morvant, Laventille and other areas.
Second Caledonia, a PNM stronghold since 1956, is just off Lady Young Road, and begins with the landmark of the towering Church on the Rock at its entrance.
The community has had its share of violent crime over the years, losing many young men to gun violence as gang members killed each other for drug turf, state contracts and power. It has also seen a disproportionate number of violent confrontations involving the police which left residents dead, with the frequent claim of extrajudicial killings.
On June 27 last year police shot dead Joel "Lion" Jacobs, 38, Noel Diamond, 46, and Israel Moses Clinton, 27 when the gold-colooured Nissan Tiida Clinton was driving was stopped along Juman Drive.
An official police report said Guard and Emergency Branch officers were on patrol along Juman Drive, Second Caledonia when, near the Auto Guru building, they saw a Nissan Tiida heading towards them.
The police said they stopped the car, which had three occupants. They claimed a man in the back seat got out and started shooting at them. Police claimed they found a Beretta pistol and ammunition in the back seat of the car.
The three injured men were taken to hospital. where they were declared dead on arrival.
But the police account was contradicted by a six-minute, 22 second footage which showed two of the men with their air surrendering when they were shot.
In the days after the killings residents said marked police vehicles remained parked outside Anthony Bartholomew's home whose cameras had recorded the incident. They viewed this as an act of intimidation.
Sunday Newsday went into Second Caledonia on Wednesday and spent several hours speaking to residents, both young and elderly, to find out how the events of June 27 last year had affected them and their relationship with the police since.
Many of the people we interviewed were reluctant to be named, photographed or recorded, fearing their truth might bring them harm from a particular police unit which they claim is responsible for the deaths of several people in the community and framing many others with criminal charges such as possession of ammunition, illegal weapons and drugs and ahost of other crimes.
Asked what is preventing them from coming forward with evidence to support their claims, or testifying against the officers, a group of men gathered at a shop said to do so was a virtual death sentence.
Dead man's mother: My son was a drinker
Villager Josiah Emmanuel, who had been drinking alcohol with Diamond at the Sunrise to Sunset Convenience Mart, on Leon Street, said he refused to go with Diamond and Clinton to pick up Jacobs from San Juan, where he had spent the night by the mother of his child. He said had he got into the car that day, he too might have been killed.
Clinton, who lived opposite the mini mart, often used his car to take residents on errands.
Of the three killed that day, he was the only one with pending criminal charges: possession of three rounds of ammunition and a money counter.
One of his former attorneys said Clinton had 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 after being accused of possession of a stolen vehicle.
Diamond's mother, Priscilla Brooks, 75, said she lost not only her youngest son that day, but her only companion, who did everything to help make her life comfortable.
Brooks lives at the top of a steep incline up a crudely patched narrow lane, a stone's throw from where her son was killed.
She said when she got the news that the police had killed him, her world shattered,
"I was in a turmoil. From that time to now my life has changed drastically."
Brooks, who has two other children living overseas, said she depended on Diamond to go to the market, grocery and even collect her pension grant. Now people who were once strangers are the ones who help her get through life.
Since the incident, she said, the only interaction she has had with the police was meeting the investigators after her son was buried.
Asked whether her relationship with the police had improved, Brooks said: "Not one police come and ask me, 'Miss, how you making out?' Do you believe me?"
She wants justice for her son's death.
Brooks said the only vices her son had were "drinking rum" and "using obscene language" and he had never run afoul of the law.
Unimaginable pain, sleepless nights
Sterling Jacobs, a retired principal, and his wife Carol, a portfolio administrator with an insurance broker, whose home is literally around the corner from where their only son was shot dead, said they have to relive the horror of losing him every day.
They said they were in the kitchen preparing lunch when they heard screeching tyres and people loudly ordering someone to get back in a car, and went to their porch to investigate.
The Jacobs, both aged 65, said they saw a lot of police officers on the street in front of their home and some pointed guns and them ordeed them back inside the house. Seconds later, they heard rapid gunfire and ran back to the porch.
Joel Jacobs had only moments earlier left the house with Diamond, in a car driven by Clinton, to buy a bottle of rum to celebrate his birthday.
At that time they did not know their son was one of the three men the police had killed. He was a qualified electrician, who also worked in construction and was a custodian at Bethlehem Boys' RC school,
Sterling said the police sergeant instructed him to go to the morgue, even though his son's body was almost in front of him.
Carol said losing her only son "is the most unimaginable and painful situation to go through. No one will understand the pain and suffering. Every time I pass there it bring tears to my eyes."
She said she recently started counselling, as they both have difficulty sleeping. The relatives claim no one from the police's Victim and Witness Support Unit ever visited them to offer any support.
The mother of Clinton's three children said his six year old daughter often cries when she sees her father's photo on her tablet and live has been a struggle since his death as he was the breadwinner in the famiily.
She said she is praying for justice like the entire community and hopes the red-tape to get survivor's benefit to help take care of the children can be approved soon.
The woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described Clinton as a loving father who smiled a lot. She broke down crying as she talked about him saying that he never got an opportunity to see his last child, now eight months, or tell the other two goodbye.
'Treat us like human beings'
Resident Kathy Ann Waldron, of Cipriani Avenue, said last year's shootings affected the entire community.
"It just have the place downcast where everybody have to fear for their life now when they see the police because you really don't know what they up to...If you there to protect and serve, you can't be the judge, jury and executioner."
She said if someone is accused of a crime the role of the judiciary was to determine guilt of innocence based on evidence.
"If you have to be the judge, jury and executioner, then let us do away with the court, because that not making no sense."
Waldron said she had no problem with the police doing their work in a professional manner but when they threaten residents, curse them and point guns at them, people don't feel safe when they are around.
"You know sometimes you will be glad if police come around and things going on, but now you doesn't care to see a police pass, because everybody 'fraid for their life and that not supposed to be."
Some of the young men said they only way they believed they can get the attention of the authorities is by protesting, blocking roads and burning debris, but knew if they did so during the SoE they would be arrested. Some recounted incidents with police when one would bark commands to shut up, while another demanded an answer, often resulting in a slap, cuff, kick or even shot.
But they said they are willing to work with the police if they are treated with respect and like human beings.
Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith declined to comment on the anniversary of the fatal police shooting.
Part 2 in tomorrow's Newsday
"Police triple killing in Morvant unites fractured community"