A police officer whose son was shot dead by her colleagues is demanding justice and questioned their training.
WPC Nicky Hem Lee said the action of the officers was wrong after they killed her son in a reported shootout in Chaguanas on May 16.
Hem Lee, who is assigned to the Parliament, spoke with Sunday Newsday on Friday and questioned the training of her colleagues after they shot and killed her 19-year-old son Lijel Hem Lee and Carenage resident Kisseh Lendor, 37.
“Don’t be quick to believe everything that is said, because we as humans tend to forget that there are three sides to a story. There is your side, there is my side and there is the truth.
"I as a mother is not going to say that he probably was perfect, I am not one of those mothers, but I know what was done was wrong. It was wrong!”
Asked if she had lost confidence in the police, Hem Lee chuckled and said “No comment!”
“I am hurt! I am disappointed. I am distraught. I don't know what to say.
"You are twisting the story, which is what I have seen being the norm now, that is the story that they (suspects) always shooting back and whatever. Nine-tenths of the time it is nothing like that, and the average man knows and have become aware of that being the new norm being carried out by the service. You know, it's heartbreaking, because it hit home. It hit home.”
Police reported officers assigned to the Chaguanas CID officers were following up on a report of a robbery at 6+1 Supermarket at Southern Main Road, Enterprise, Chaguanas when they went to Freedom Street Extension, Enterprise.
Police said when they arrived at around 6.15 pm they were shot at and shot back, killing both men.
Hem Lee questioned their tactics, saying they were contrary to the protocols of the service.
“Why would you all do something like that?
"You all teach us there is a procedure. If he's guilty of anything, there is a procedure and you bring him before the court, because you are not judge, jury and executioner?
"I can’t commit a crime and get away with it. I can't take the law into my own hands either.”
Hem Lee said her son was shot multiple times, according to his autopsy results. He was buried on Thursday.
Hem Lee said she was placing her trust in God for justice.
“Vengeance is God’s and God said many are the afflictions of the righteous, but God will see us through.”
Both the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) and a senior police officer from the Central Division are investigating the killings. Sunday Newsday was unable to confirm whether the Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) is also investigating the killings.
Like Hem Lee, relatives of Lendor are also placing their trust in God’s hands, saying the killing has only brought the family closer together as they seek justice.
At their home at Beard Street, Carenage last week, the Lendors said on the day of the killing they were contemplating how to tell their father Arthur that his niece had died. While his daughters Latifa Lendor and Melissa Lendor-McMillan were deciding how to tell him, as just seven days earlier he had a stroke, they got news that their brother had been killed.
Worse than the killing was the report that Kisseh was involved in a robbery. That is what is hurting the family.
“You already kill him, you still stinking up he name? By the grace of God we will go until we get justice,” the sisters said.
Melissa added: “They say don’t touch the Lord’s anointed.
"They touch the wrong family. We will get our justice, not by man, but by God. We will get our justice!”
Kisseh, they said, was shot five times in the chest.
He is to be buried on Monday after a funeral at the Carenage Recreation Grounds.
Body cameras should be worn and turned on
The family said everyone in the community who knew Kisseh and who knew of him and his family rubbished the police report that he was involved in criminal activity. The sisters said police labelling the men criminals did not change how they viewed police officers, adding they have friends and family members in the protective services.
They do, however, hope that this incident changes the way police operate and especially that it will will lead them to use body cameras.
Answering questions in Parliament last week, the Prime Minister said additional body cameras will be bought for frontline police officers to augment those currently in use.
The use of body cameras has been an issue for police officers, who had to be instructed by Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher to switch on their cameras while on duty.
Sunday Newsday reported in April that officers were wearing the cameras but not turning them on. After the report, Harewood-Christopher ordered officers who have them to turn them on when on duty.
In a media statement she said a total of 1,120 body-worn cameras had been issued and there is a plan to buy 2,000 more.
The PCA has repeatedly called for the officers not only to wear but turn on their cameras and for those failing to do so to be sanctioned.
Re-opening old wounds
With the two police killings, relatives of three young men killed by police last July are renewing their calls for justice.
On July 2, police killed Leonardo Williams, Fabien Richards and Isaiah Roberts in a reported shootout at Independence Square North, Port of Spain, near Republic Bank.
Police said they were "forced" to open fire on 17-year-olds Williams and Roberts and 21-year-old Richards after the three allegedly shot at them.
Their autopsies said all three were shot from behind, multiple times.
The three were among six men who were in a car travelling from Diego Martin to Beetham Gardens, where Richards and Williams lived.
Sunday Newsday visited the area and spoke with a survivor, who recalled the night his friends were killed.
Shaking uncontrollably as he spoke, the 23-year-old said the police approached them along the Diego Martin Highway and the driver failed to stop. This resulted in a chase, with police shooting in the air to try to force them to stop.
Pleas for the driver to stop were ignored. At one point along Wrightson Road there was a police vehicle in front of their Toyota Aqua and one behind. The driver turned east off Wrightson Road and on to Independence Square North, heading towards oncoming traffic.
“When the car almost reached the bank, – I don’t know if it was the car behind us, but a police jeep hit the car and we crash into the wall by the bank. I end up butting my head on the front seat. I look around to see if everybody okay and I see everybody putting their hand out the window, so I started to do the same thing. That was when shots started to fire.”
He added that he slouched down in the car seat, heard gunshots and felt the car shaking. He did not hear anyone in the car crying out for help or saying they had been shot. He said after some time he felt like the shooting was never-ending, and shouted, “We just trying to go home!”
Then the shots stopped.
He recalled police then opening the door and pulling everyone out.
In the end three died, three survived and six families were left shattered.
A relative of the survivor said immediately after the incident he was afraid to go outside and when he did, he covered his face. While he said he “counselled himself” the relative said he is in desperate need of help, as he spends a lot of time crying.
Leo Williams and Lucky Joseph, parents to Leonardo, told Sunday Newsday that puncheon rum and cigarettes are what they use to help them cope. The couple said growing up in Beetham Gardens, there is a stigma attached to it and they did all they could to ensure that their children did not fall into that category.
Since Williams' death, Leo said he has had severe panic attacks and would sometimes find himself at all hours leaving his home and travelling to the Tunapuna Public Cemetery to speak to his son.
“You know, is one thing to kill him, but to tarnish he name and say he shoot at you?
"I have to clear my son's name. All them youth men is good boys. I want justice on this side and let the Holy Father and Mother deal with them on the other side too. I want my justice,” a weeping Leo said.
Joseph said she realised since the incident, she smokes more than she ever did. And while talking with Richards’ mother Nicole helps, it is not enough to ease the pain.
“Next week will be 11 months since and let me tell you it don’t have a day I don’t think about my son. We does light candle for him every single day,” she said.
Just mentioning her son’s name made Richards cry. She said the investigator, Snr Supt Neil Brandon-John, told her the matter was nearing closure as there was one more document to receive from an officer involved to complete the investigation.
Roberts' grandmother Michelle John said she no longer enjoys Saturdays since the killing. She said she is relying on God for answers, as she has been given the runaround by investigators. She said every morning she wakes, she cries and hides it from the rest of the family.
PCA director David West said the investigation was completed and the attorneys are preparing a legal brief with recommendations.