Inmate, 26, dies after prison brawl

The entrance to the Port of Spain Prison on Frederick Street. - File photo
The entrance to the Port of Spain Prison on Frederick Street. - File photo

AN inmate involved in the March 26 riot at the Port of Spain Prison on Frederick Street has died on March 29. He was identified as Shurland “Big Mesh” Brown, a 26-year-old man of Balbaday Hill, Dibe, St James.

Brown was on remand, charged with the 2019 murder of Joshua Fortune on Balbaday Hill, Belle Vue Road, St James.

On March 29, Acting Commissioner of Prisons Deopersad Ramoutar said the family had been notified of Brown’s death, and investigations were underway into the circumstances surrounding it.

“If there is any suspicion of foul play in these situations police are called in, but in this case police were already called in,” he said.

He explained the officers investigating the riot were also looking into Brown’s death.

Asked on possible outcomes of the investigation, Ramoutar said he didn’t want to speculate but said there had been situations where prison officers were held responsible for deaths of prisoners while executing their duties.

“There have been situations that I can recall where officers spent years in prison without bail on a murder charge from incidents such as this.”

In a statement on March 29, the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service extended condolences on Brown’s death. In it Deosaran noted the cause of Brown's death had not yet been determined but would be revealed in an autopsy. He added that counselling services were offered to the inmates and family of the deceased if required.

The prison brawl broke out on March 26, reportedly as a prison officer was escorting a prisoner to his cell at around 10.15 am. Ramoutar in an earlier report said the prisoner was told to go into his cell and he refused, after which he became “violent and uncontrollable,” sparking an altercation between the two.

Several other prisoners jumped into the altercation, requiring the prison officers to use force to get control, which led to a free-for-all brawl within prison walls.

The incident lasted for about 10 minutes. At the end of the fracas 17 prison officers and six inmates were injured.

On March 27, a High Court judge, Justice Margaret Mohammed ordered three of the inmates involved in the riot, Kerry Valentino, Ayokie Charles and Ray Paul Julien, appear before her at a virtual hearing on March 28.

Attorney: Excessive force used

Brown’s attorney, Alexia Romero, says Brown’s family plans to press full charges. She said Brown was not involved in the initial incident and was badly beaten and unresponsive when he was taken to hospital on March 26.

She said pathologists are now testing to see if he had any illnesses.

“This is a young man. He had no history of any illness, but they are testing to see if he had. How could a man be standing and normal one day then suddenly be stricken by an infection or illness that hadn’t existed up to this point? There were eyewitnesses who saw that he was beaten.”

Romero said Brown was an innocent bystander in the incident and was still severely beaten.

“Based on my instructions from my clients, he had nothing to do with the initial altercation, but he received the back end of what transpired.”

Brown’s mother who did not wish to be named said she was told he was standing on the sidelines during the altercation but was beaten unconscious.

“My son and a couple other inmates were outside in the yard and one had a bottle of water in their hand when the incident happened. He threw it behind one of the prison officers and they just started beating everyone,” she said.

“They beat my son to a pulp. He was unconscious and he never woke up. He wasn’t talking, he could not even open his eyes.”

She said prison officers informed her of Brown’s involvement in the riot and told her, in order to visit him at hospital she had to get a permission slip from the prison. A doctor contacted her on March 27 informing her that Brown had been injured in the riot and was not breathing.

The doctor asked her permission to intubate Brown to assist with his breathing. She was only able to see her son once during his time at hospital.

“I got to see him on Thursday evening, after a lot of difficulty and run-around.”

She said she went over to the prison and had to go back-and-forth between the prison and the prison welfare office in order to get the permission slip.

“They told me at the welfare office that it was the prison’s job to give consent to go to the hospital, but when I go to the prison they are saying that it is the welfare office’s job.

“I said, 'Someone is lying to me. Someone is trying to cover something up and I will get my attorney.' That was when one of the officers at the welfare office went to speak to a superior.

“When they returned they said they spoke to a superintendent and he gave me the consent form.”

She said when she got to the hospital she was stopped at the door and told by security that they had strict instructions to not let anyone in. When she showed them the form, five prison officers came out and looked at the form.

“They had me waiting for 25-30 minutes. One of the prison officers took me inside. I asked him if he could tell me what happened, he said he didn’t know.

“I asked the nurse. She said she didn’t know either and I would have to speak to the doctor.
"I looked at my son. His head was bandaged. His face was turned to the left.

“I tried calling him, shaking him but I got no response.

“I got so angry I started to bawl down the place. I said: ‘Look how they have my son! I don’t know what you are trying to cover up but I will not let this go!’”

She was eventually told by nurses that Brown might have meningitis, but doctors said they also wanted to test for tuberculosis.

On the morning of March 29 she went to the hospital to pay for the test but was told by doctors that it would not make sense because of the condition he was in. She went back to her job in Port of Spain, but as soon as she got there she was told by an associate of Brown's that he was dead.

“I told her no one told me that and I was just there,” she said.

“But, as soon as I got off the phone, two more people from the prison called to tell me that he passed away. I was already making plans to take my attorney to the hospital to take pictures of his condition.

“I left and I went down, but as I reached in the parking lot, welfare officers told me he died.”

Brown’s attorney said the family was arranging for a private autopsy to be done after the body was released to them.

Contacted on March 29, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds declined comment on Brown's death.

Prisoners recall chaos at gaol

While prison officers said the riot started with an emotional inmate, prisoners have a different story. Inmates claimed that the officers had targeted certain inmates practicing the Muslim faith.

Inmates who communicated through social media said the incident started when a prison officer pushed an inmate – a practicing Imam fasting for the month of Ramadan – while passing through a tunnel.

“The inmate’s said ‘Boss, all you had to say was excuse me,’ and the officer said ‘I don’t have to say excuse, you are an inmate.’ Then he pushed him against the wall and began choking him and slapping him.”

Prisoners told Newsday the inmate tried to push the prison officer's hand away, as he was epileptic and suffered from seizures. Another officer separated the two and took him to the infirmary.

Or so they thought.

“Another officer took him to the front yard. There, he was assaulted by the same prison officer who slapped him in the tunnel. Again officers had to separate them. In the cells, officers and inmates were going back and forth about what went on. Inmates told officers they were being oppressed, then all of a sudden the lights went out and all we could hear was shouting, glass breaking and objects being thrown.”

Prisoners said when the lights came back on, officers were chasing behind whoever they thought might have been involved in “attacking” the officer and beating them mercilessly.


"Inmate, 26, dies after prison brawl"

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