EIGHT police officers appeared emotionless when they appeared in court on Tuesday charged with a triple murder which sparked a violent outcry for justice from several depressed communities in Port of Spain, Laventille, Morvant and other areas two years ago.
The officers who were formally attached to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) appeared virtually before Magistrate Brian Debideen in the Port of Spain Magistrate's Court charged with the triple murder of Joel "Lion" Jacob, 38, his childhood friend Noel Diamond, 46 and Israel Moses Clinton, 27, at Juman Drive, Second Caledonia, Morvant on June 27, 2020.
The incident created history in the police service as the greatest number of officers to be charged with murder arising out a single incident.
Seven of the officers stood side by side at the Besson Street Police Station, dressed in T-shirts and jeans, staring directly at the camera and each answered to their names and raised their right hands as the magistrate began the matter. The eighth officer, who has agreed to testify against his colleagues, appeared on a separate link in an undisclosed location.
Special security arrangements have been put in place to ensure the officer's safety while in prison, one senior officer said.
Acting Commissioner McDonald Jacob responding to the development at a press conference on Tuesday said the outcome of the investigation showed that the police was capable of investigating its own but could not say if the incident had eroded public trust and confidence in the organisation without proper research.
Sgt Joseph Solomon, 44; Cpl Charles Budri, 55; constables Sherwin Baptiste, 41; Mark Lewis, 41; Vaughn St Cyr, 39; Sean Lord, 42; Jameel Mohammed, 42; and Colin Furlonge, 39 are charged with the triple murder and were remanded into prison custody until August 16.
The officers were arrested between July 14 and 15 and later questioned under caution by a team of investigators led by Supt Wayne Abbott. Seven of them remained silent while the eighth gave a statement, police said.
On Monday, night Abbott got instructions from Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard SC to charge the officers with three offences of murder. Gaspard has been liaising with the officers throughout the investigation and visited the scene last year when Abbott and his team re-enacted the crime scene to corroborate the testimony of eye witnesses.
It is not unusual for the DPP to visit crime scenes to get a better understanding of the evidence before him, a senior officer said.
Ten more cops being investigated
Ten other officers remain under investigation for possible offences of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and misbehaviour in public office.
Four months ago, police intended to arrest the group but learned at the last moment that one of them had left for the United States on a one-way ticket and they had to call off the operation. Seven of the officers who had fired their weapons were put on desk duty in July 2020 after the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) made a recommendation to then CoP Gary Griffith.
The group of 18 officers, eight from the IATF and the others from the Guard and Emergency Branch, were on patrol in Morvant when they intercepted a gold-coloured Nissan Tiida hatchback near the Auto Guru building. CCTV footage showed several officers with guns drawn approaching the car and Jacob who was in the back seat emerged with both hands in the air. The driver, Clinton, was also seen with his hands above the steering wheel. As Diamond lowered the right left window eight police officers opened fire.
Jacob had, only moments before, left his home, about two buildings away, to go and buy a bottle of rum to celebrate his birthday and got a drop with Clinton.
A press release issued by the police after the court appearance recounted the officer's version of events which claimed that during the incident "one of the occupants of the vehicle pointed a firearm at them causing them to discharge their firearms in the direction of the men."
According to investigators, the State's case against the officers is that the men were unarmed and had surrendered when they were shot.
In court, the magistrate read out the charges that the officers are accused of murdering Jacob, Diamond and Clinton together with other people.
The court prosecutor, a police corporal said the lead investigator had only received instructions to charge the officers on Monday night and had not complied with a direction under the criminal proceeding rules to hand over a summary of the evidence.
He requested a week to provide the information but that drew objections from the defence attorneys.
Lead attorney for five of the officers, Israel Khan SC, said he wanted to know if other people were to be charged with the triple murder but the prosecutor said he was not in a position to answer that question and suggested that Khan should wait for the summary of the evidence.
Defence attorney Mario Merritt said there was no special circumstances which prevented the investigator from providing the summary of evidence and noted the officers had been in custody for several days.
Debideen said the case was "not a run-of-the-mill" matter and suggested that when the summary of evidence was disclosed it might provide clarity.
Khan said he hoped the summary of evidence showed that his clients "were acting in the execution of their lawful duties when the three men were killed." He questioned why an inquest was not ordered in the matter and said he was "disturbed" that the DPP had visited the scene of the crime during the investigation.
Debideen said he had taken note of the defence attorneys objections and queries and noted that the question of bail did not arise.
He said the summary of evidence will be shared with the defence via e-mail. The hearing lasted 24 minutes.
The Police Complaints Authority had completed its investigation in the matter and referred its findings to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. A special task force led by Supt Abbott was detailed to investigate and several experts were appointed to the team, including officers from the cybercrime unit.
Khan, SC, Ulric Skerritt, James Caruth, Thalia Brooks and Arissa Maharaj represented five of the officers – Solomon, Baptiste, St Cyr, Mohammed and Furlonge.
Attorneys Sheldon Maicoo and John Heath represented Lord, attorney Mario Merritt represented Lewis and attorney Wade Ceballo represented Budri.
Spotlight on police-involved killings
The murder charges against the officers come at a time when the public focus on police killings have once again dominated the nation's attention after three young men – Isaiah Roberts, 17, Leonardo "Naldo" Williams, 17, and Fabien Richards, 21, were shot dead on July 2, on Independence Square, Port of Spain, after a high-speed chase. Three other occupants of the vehicle were arrested and later released. An autopsy found all three were shot from behind. Police claimed an illegal gun was found in the car.
That same day, a known offender Tristan "Ratty" Springer, 24, was shot dead at his Second Caledonia. Those killings also sparked public protest on July 4, where the Beetham Highway, Priority Bus Route, parts of East Port of Spain, and Lady Young Road, Morvant were blocked with burning debris as people demanded a thorough investigation into the incidents. Police claimed Springer pulled a weapon on them forcing them to return fire.
The PCA and the police have opened parallel investigations into those matters and are calling for people with useful information to co-operate.
The unresolved investigation into the death of PC Clarence Gilkes during a police operation in Richplain, Diego Martin on April 22, where police initially claimed Gilkes was killed by gunmen but a ballistic report showed he was shot by a police gun, has also raised public disquiet after the main suspect, Jehlano Romney, has now turned the main witness against the officers.
Three officers from the Western Division Task Force have been suspended from duty and the PCA described it as a case of police abuse of power, saying officers deliberately misled acting CoP McDonald Jacob about the circumstances of the shooting.
On Tuesday, Jacob said police would continue to engage criminals who pose a threat and referred to an incident which took place hours earlier where Meshach Gibson was shot dead in La Fillette, Blanchisseuse. Police claimed Gibson opened fire with a Baretta pistol which was seized with six rounds of ammunition. They are hunting a second man who escaped in the forest of Blanchisseuse.
In 2011, acting Sgt Khemraj Sahadeo, constables Safraz Juman, Renaldo Reviero, Glen Singh, Roger Nicholas, and Antonio Ramadin were charged with the triple murder of Abigail Johnson, Alana Duncan and Kerron "Fingers" Eccles on July 22, 2011, during a police exercise in Moruga. Their trial is scheduled to be heard in the High Court in September. In that case, PC Nicole Clement, cut a deal with the State to testify against his colleagues.
This story was originally published with the title "2020 Morvant triple murder – 8 cops remanded into custody" and has been adjusted to include additional details. See original post below.
IGHT police officers appeared before a Port of Spain magistrate shortly after noon on Tuesday charged with the 2020 murders of three men in Second Caledonia, Morvant.
Sgt Joseph Solomon, corporal Charles Budri, constables Sherwin Baptiste, Mark Lewis, Vaughn St Cyr, Jameel Mohammed, Colin Furlonge and Shawn Lord appeared virtually before magistrate Brian Dabideen.
Seven of the officers appeared on a video link from the Besson Street Police Station while PC Lord appeared virtually from an unknown location.
The officers were charged by Supt Wayne Abbott on Monday night with the murders of Joel Jacob, 38, Noel Diamond, 46, and Israel Moses Clinton, 27, on June 27, 2020 at Juman Drive, near the Auto Guru building.
The seven stood side by side dressed casually and answered when the magistrate called their names and raised their hands. Lord was seated and was at first wearing a face mask before he removed it.
The officers who were last assigned to the Inter-Agency Task Force were part of a team of 18 officers who intercepted a gold-coloured Nissan Tiida hatchback along Juman Drive and allegedly murdered the three men who were reportedly unarmed and had surrendered.
The incident was captured on CCTV footage and shared on social media shortly after the incident. It also sparked widespread protests for three days in Port of Spain, Morvant, Laventille, Cocorite, East Dry River and other areas as people demanded justice and a thorough investigation.
The Police Complaints Authority had completed its investigation in the matter and referred its findings to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. A special task force led by Supt Abbott was detailed to investigate and arrested the eight between July 14 and 15. All except one officer remained silent.
Attorneys Israel Khan, SC, Ulric Skerritt, James Caruth, Thalia Brooks and Arissa Maharaj represented five of the officers.
Attorneys Sheldon Maicoo and John Heath represented Lord, attorney Mario Merritt represented Lewis and attorney Wade Ceballo represented Budri. The matter was adjourned to August 16.