Jensen La Vende
After being shot seven times during a police operation in Beetham Gardens seven years ago, police officer Adrian Moreno re-evaluated his life and career path.
The one-time aspiring engineer gave up that dream and decided to pursue law after the shooting incident.
Guardian Media spoke with Cpl Moreno outside the St James Police Station last Tuesday, about his journey from being unable to use his right hand following the incident, to being called to the bar and his hopes of improving the police service with his newly found passion.
The eldest of three children growing up in Thomasine Street, Laventille, Moreno said he needed to “step up” to assist his single mother to care for the family. Disciplined through his background in karate, the now 30-year-old cast a wide net, applying to every arm of the national security. The TTPS was the first to call, and he answered.
“Growing up in Laventille was rough, so to stay off the streets, I got involved in karate through a neighbour who was doing it. I decided to try, and I found that my sport was not cricket or football,” he said.
Coached by Wesley Dexter Shim and Anthony Peters, he rose from a trainee to representing the country at a national level at 15 on the junior team and then making the senior team at 18.
He recalled seeing his mother “stretch everything” growing up, things were “extremely difficult” for her as a single parent.
Although he was operating with the mantra of protecting and serving with pride, Moreno was still interested in engineering.
However, that all changed on the night of August 4, 2016.
Police reported then that Moreno and WPC Rachel George were shot by “unknown assailants” during an anti-crime exercise at Hell Yard, Beetham Gardens, Port-of-Spain.
In a media release then, the TTPS said Western Division Task Force officers went to Beetham Gardens at 7.20 pm in search of suspects concerning a break-in at American Stores, Western Main Road, St James. The bandits took $100,000 worth of items. During their search, the officers were shot with an assault rifle.
Moreno was hit six times. He was grazed to the back of the head, one shot went through his right ear; another in the left palm, fracturing his ring and little fingers; another in the right biceps, shattering the humerus; and another in the right forearm.
Had it not been for his bulletproof vest, he would have been shot twice in the chest and probably not be alive today.
George was shot in the left foot.
Moreno said, “I had two gunshots to my right arm, one to my forearm, one to my bicep, this one broke the humerus, and this was the worst or the most traumatic injury. I had radial nerve palsy from this injury. My right hand was non-functional for almost a year. I did three surgeries to save my right hand.”
He recalled that it was during this period of almost a year, relearning to brush his teeth, bathe and dress himself, that he realised engineering was no longer a dream but a fantasy.
Searching for something to raise him out of the slump he found himself in, he told himself he did not need his hand to be an attorney. He qualified himself and enrolled in the University of the West Indies (UWI), where he earned his bachelor’s degree in law. He then earned his Legal Education Course (LEC) at the Hugh Wooding Law School and qualified himself as an attorney.
“When I was going through everything, and I couldn’t write, I couldn’t use my right hand, I asked what could be the best thing to do? Because I couldn’t go into medicine. I couldn’t do engineering anymore. But you could speak. An attorney uses his mouth and his eyes to read, and the computer can transcribe what you say.”
The time spent on injury leave not only redirected his career path but deepened his faith.
A proud Catholic, Moreno said he attended St Theresa’s Catholic Church in Woodbrook and gave back to God and has continued his religious journey.
Marrying law and law enforcement to better T&T
Recalling the time spent having to depend on his mother to care for him while he had no mobility in his right hand, Moreno summed it up to, “it was really, really hard, thinking back on it now.”
“I did three surgeries altogether. The first one was the external fix, that didn’t work because the injury was so bad, it didn’t work. Then they attempted to do a bone graft. That didn’t work! And the last surgery, the operation they decided was the last attempt to save the hand or make it somewhat better, was to nail it and that is what I currently have.”
The screw from his shoulder through the humerus means he is forced to explain his condition when going through metal detectors. Cold weather and temperature result in occasional pain. He was also banned from karate. After years of representing the country in karate and earning the title of second-degree Shotokan karate master, Moreno is now restricted to teaching the sport because of his injuries.
Asked whether he considered resigning out of caution that he may be shot again, Moreno, with a stern look, said he could not allow fear to influence him, as that would not only jeopardise his life but the team he leads on police exercises.
“The only thing I fear is God. I don’t want to live my life like that. I am more cautious of being injured again, but I am not fearful. Going into any situation with fear, I am putting the whole team at risk.”
Since being called to the Bar, he has applied to be transferred out of the Western Division and become a legal officer, guiding the TTPS. He said his aim now is to use his new skills to better the T&TPS with the interpretation and application of the law to proffer the right charges to suspects.