Former police commissioner Gary Griffith has claimed that a human trafficking case involving six people including an acting school principal, a pastor, a lawyer, and her elderly mother, that was dismissed due to a lack of evidence, was mishandled.
Griffith made the claim last Wednesday after human trafficking, kidnapping, and false imprisonment charges against acting principal Cheryl Kallicharan-Beharry, pastor Glen Awong, attorney Lena Jaggernath, her elderly mother Indra, Anthony Marchan, and Robert Andrews were dismissed on Tuesday.
Griffith, who personally participated in a raid at Awong’s Transformed Life Ministries in Arouca in late 2019, which resulted in the release of almost 70 residents who were purportedly being held against their will and led to the charges, questioned why neither he nor officers of the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) were not asked to participate in the prosecution.
“This suggests a poor handling of the investigation, as they failed to provide the necessary evidence to prosecute the case,” Griffith said.
“This evidence would have also included video footage of the raid and the discovery of implements such as batons, handcuffs, shackles, and tasers,” he added.
Griffith claimed that during his tenure junior police investigators were paired with civilian attorneys to prevent cases from being dismissed prematurely.
He also noted that he instituted measures to ensure the court attendance of police officers. He claimed that the policies were dismantled after his tenure came to an end.
“It seems that we are back to a situation where junior officers with basic legal training are representing the State against seasoned defence attorneys,” he said.
Griffith also alleged that the collapse of the case was partially due to the inadmissibility of evidence from some of the purported “detainees”, who were found to have mental health issues.
“This flaw cannot be allowed to persist and must be amended to ensure greater respect for individual rights because it suggests that these people can be raped, robbed, mentally and physically abused, and they do not have a voice against those who perpetrated these acts against them in our justice system,” Griffith said. Speaking with media personnel at their attorney Wayne Sturge’s office on Tuesday, Kallicharan-Beharry, Awong, and the Jaggernaths claimed that they were not surprised by the outcome.
Kallicharan-Beharry, whose son and daughter were the alleged victims in the case, said: “I always say that the truth always comes to light. Whatever reasons we were arrested for, today, we are justified and vindicated.
“I was wrongfully imprisoned just for trying to get help for my children,” she added.
Awong expressed similar sentiments over the outcome of the case.
“Victory was always there. We know that we never had a case. We thank God for this victory,” he said.
Awong claimed that the probe into his organisation, which provides services to the families of mental health patients and drug addicts, was politically motivated as it came after it sued the Ministry of Social Development over unpaid fees related to a programme for street dwellers.
“First to begin, nothing exists in the matter here was human trafficking. If they (the police) take allegations they have to face the consequences now,” Awong added.
He claimed that while he and his family suffered some embarrassment over being prosecuted, the organisation’s reputation was untarnished in the eyes of many members of the public.
Jaggernath’s sister Sharon Jaggernath-Mohammed was arrested in relation to the case but was not charged alongside her sister and their mother.
Jaggernath-Mohammed noted that the prosecution had and will continue to have a negative impact on her family’s lives.
She claimed that she and her sister lost numerous clients while their children were alienated and bullied in school. She also claimed that she was stopped and questioned about the case by United States officials during a trip to that country last year.
“Today is a kind of bitter-sweet day. Yes, we got justice but it would never erase what we went through,” Jaggernath-Mohammed said.
“Our children have suffered unnecessarily,” Jaggernath-Mohammed added.
While Jaggernath-Mohammed noted that her relatives and their former co-accused would now vigorously pursue malicious prosecution cases, she maintained that compensation would not suffice.
“They (the State) could never pay us for the reputations that were lost and affected here. They could never pay us for the integrity they damaged here,” she said.
The group was also represented by Mario Merritt, Alexia Romero, and Danielle Rampersad.