Scenes of mass jubilation echoed throughout the halls of the Port-of-Spain Magistrates' Court yesterday as 21 Port-of-Spain residents were freed of gang-related charges. The group, all of Nelson Street, Port-of-Spain, caused a massive uproar from their relatives, as they left the court as free men. The men were charged under Section 5 (1) of the recently passed Anti-Gang Act, as being members of a gang, namely the "Nelson Street Gang". When their matter was called in the Eighth Magistrate Court before Chief Magistrate Macia Ayers-Caesar, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, stood up and told the court the State had insufficient evidence to sustain the charges against them.
Gaspard said: "I have perused the men's files and I have the unflinching view that there is not sufficient evidence to continue these proceedings against these defendants. "Shortly, I intend to file motions of discontinuance in respect to this matter." On his announcement, the large crowd sitting in the public gallery in the court burst into a round of applause. The expressions on the faces of the group of accused instantly turned from ones of gloom to happiness. Attorney Ian Brooks, who represented one of the accused, thanked Gaspard for his prompt action. Brooks said: "This decision proves the independence of the office of the DPP and Gaspard himself. "This decision is a happy ending to a sad chapter in the history of T&T."
After Ayers-Caesar dismissed the charges against the men, who ranged in ages between 18 to 63 years, Brooks hinted that the some of the accused would be seeking to take legal action against the State for their detention and malicious prosecution. He said: "We (attorneys) will do what we have to from now on. These proceedings have formed a severe blot on the report card of my client." Brooks also called on Gaspard to expedite the matters of other people charged under the Anti-Gang Act. The group's legal team included attorneys Mario Merritt, Criston J Williams, Keith Beckles, Vincent Charles and Naveen Maraj.
State prosecutors George Busby, Wendell Lucas and Richard Taylor assisted Gaspard in the prosecution of the matter. Williams, Charles and Beckles all echoed the views of Brooks and thanked Gaspard and Ayers-Caesar for their prompt action on behalf of their clients.
The attorneys questioned the State's position on other men similarly charged under the Act during the ongoing state of emergency. They were arrested by officers of the Besson Street CID on August 23 and were the first in the country to appear in the Port-of-Spain Magistrates' Court charged under the Act. The group first appeared before Ayers-Caesar on August 25 to answer the charges to which they all pleaded not guilty. On their second appearance on September 5, although their attorneys demanded information and evidence relating to their clients' arrest and subsequent charge, police prosecutors failed to offer any evidence, saying it would be available as soon as possible. During an impromptu press conference yesterday at the South Port-of-Spain Relief Centre, George Street, mere metres from their homes, they said they were happy by the decision but lamented about their arrests and 20-day detention. Spokesman for the group, Atiba Gorkin, described prison conditions as inhumane. Gorkin said they were all crammed into a tiny cell from which they were only allowed to leave once a day.